Still swinging - Part IIBozinski looks forward to playing with the Ravens this summer free of cancer
By: Emily Kram, Superior Telegram
This is the second story of a two-part series about Superior native Adam Bozinski’s year-long struggle with cancer. From his original diagnosis through the amputation of his left foot and the disappointing reoccurrence of the disease, Bozinski has remained strong in his faith and his determination to continue playing the sport he loves — baseball.
Last fall, Adam Bozinski returned to Western Technical College in La Crosse with a baseball cap pulled low above his eyes, disguising his baldness. As he walked through the halls he looked much as he always had.
“When I wear jeans, no one can tell I’m an amputee,” Bozinski said.
Beneath his street clothes, Bozinski had a pipe ankle and new prosthetic foot on his left leg, the result of an amputation to get rid of a sarcoma. He was still waiting for his eyebrows to grow in following three rounds of chemotherapy, but Bozinski was ready to put cancer behind him and play baseball.
Running went better than expected. His new foot didn’t require any special attention, and Bozinski was able to focus on rebuilding the muscle he had lost during chemotherapy.
Slowly, through intense training and determination, Bozinski worked his way back into baseball form. He had played mostly as an outfielder in high school but also prepared himself to play at first base and pitch for Western Technical College.
By the end of fall, Bozinski was ready for baseball and could joke about his prosthetic foot with his usual sense of humor.
His thoughts of cancer were fading away.
Then in December, Bozinski went in for a routine CT scan, and doctors noticed some suspicious spots on his lungs. With sarcomas, the cancer often shows up in the lungs, so patients are monitored carefully. All of Bozinski’s previous scans had been clean, but further tests convinced doctors to schedule him for surgery on Feb. 20.
“When they did the lung surgery they opened me up on the left side, and cut out what they figured was sarcoma,” Bozinski said. “They were correct, so they cut out anything that looked suspicious, flipped me over and went into the right lung as well. All the areas were on the outer surface, so I lost less than 10 percent of my lung function during the surgery.”
Returning to baseball after his surgery, Bozinski didn’t want to take time off. He had to work to regain stamina, but physically it was an easy challenge to overcome. The struggle in his mind was more difficult to resolve.
The reoccurrence of cancer had been a shock for the 23-year-old. He’d hoped his amputation would eliminate the sarcoma once and for all.
“Mentally, it just really started getting hard,” Bozinski said. “I did so much work to get back on the field, and to have that happen again was unsettling. For the first time, it really got to me.”
From the day of his diagnosis, Bozinski’s faith had always guided him and helped him through difficult times. When his cancer returned, Bozinski was shaken. He knew how difficult the experience was on his parents, Ed and Lourie, and he could do nothing to make it better. He began to question life and think about his future, sometimes wondering if he would even have one.
He’d never understood it before, but Bozinski finally saw how someone could feel angry with God.
“I can’t even imagine what he’s gone through,” said Kris Minor, who plays with Bozinski on the St. Croix Ravens summer league team and is the general manager. “I don’t know if I’d handle it as well.”
Minor, 29, said it was always clear Bozinski had strong beliefs. Even in the darkest times, Bozinski never seemed to feel sorry for himself and remained strong in his faith.
“I admire that about him, and I know there are a lot of other people who admire that too,” Minor said.
“How the last year has shaped me spiritually is just amazing,” Bozinski said. “It’s been a moving experience. Seldom did I cry about the cancer thing, but I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had someone put a hand on my shoulder and say a prayer for me and I’ve been brought to tears.”
Through it all, Bozinski kept playing baseball with Western Technical College. He’d just finished a doubleheader early in April when he was scheduled to return to Duluth for his first CT scan since his last bout of cancer.
During the games, Bozinski had felt good. He’d hit a double and felt like everything was back to normal. As he headed for his test, Bozinski said a silent prayer.
“I thought, please, let me have more of that,” Bozinski said.
At the hospital, Ed Bozinski was with his son. His father had been with him for every check-up to that point, but Bozinski didn’t want him to come this time. He was worried he’d have more bad news.
“I can’t tell you how scared I was that day,” Bozinski said.
When the doctors told Bozinski his scan was clean, the relief was overwhelming.
“I will never forget the hug my dad gave me in the elevator that day,” Bozinski said, his voice cracking. “It’s like life’s back to normal. Everything is good again.”
The world will finally seem right again when Bozinski puts on a Ravens uniform this spring. The St. Croix Ravens open summer league play this Sunday.
Last season, Bozinski served as third base coach for the Ravens. The only time he was not with the team was during chemotherapy sessions.
Now with a clean bill of health, he looks forward to playing again.
“That’s what I look forward to every year — being in Solon and wearing the same uniform as all the guys,” Bozinski said. “There’s a real bond, like a family.”
Minor remembers the first time he met Bozinski. It was at a tournament when Bozinski was just 19 years old.
“The funny thing is, he was really quiet,” Minor said. “I thought he was this quiet little blonde kid.”
Now Bozinski is known as an outgoing player with a quick sense of humor and many friends. Minor said the 23-year-old is a fiery competitor and one of the more vocal Ravens. He knows Bozinski pressures himself to play as like “the old Boz,” but Minor hopes Bozinski won’t forget to enjoy the game. He knows nothing will ever keep him from playing it.
“I don’t think there’s a person alive who has more passion for the game of baseball and for life than Adam,” said Dale Rajala, founder and president of the Ravens.
Just a few weeks after losing his foot to cancer, Bozinski was with the Ravens to watch his teammates play. St. Croix had a conference game in Siren, but only eight players were available. Bozinski was still battling cancer and undergoing chemotherapy, but he wanted to help his teammates. So he grabbed a glove and headed to first base.
Bozinski had a temporary prosthetic on his foot, not suitable for baseball, but he chose to play regardless. Even with so much working against him, Rajala said Bozinski still made contact almost every time at the plate.
“He is somebody that should be classified as an example for anyone looking for inspiration,” Rajala said. “Nothing will stop him.”
For Bozinski, it was never a question if he would beat his disease; it was something he would beat. And when he did beat it, he wanted baseball in his life.
“I’m kind of liking this new lease on life and the opportunity to still be playing a game I love,” Bozinski said. “God’s been very good to me. I know I can impact lives because of cancer, but I hope God gives me the opportunity to impact lives for a very long time and through good health.”