Hey, Nolan, Charlie and Trevor, when you’re in the batter’s box, swing for the fences, baby!
We’re OK if you drive home run balls over center field or splash one into Charlie’s fishing hole. And if you happen to pop one off the Hit the Mitt sign along the line in left field, we’ll make some merry for the Colorado Rockies and guys like leukemia survivor Mike Brashear.
Mike’s a cowboy, a stocky one. He trains horses, some of ‘em pretty wild, brands cattle and cuts hay. He’s no townie. Mike’s wants to see Colorado’s blue sky, feel the warmth of the sunshine and ride a spitfire of a straight-up bronc like the one he calls Blue. He learned grit from his Pa, and chivalry from his Nanny, who always told him that if he could dance and had good manners, he’d always have a date.
The advice was excellent. Mike found Laura when they were juniors at Brighton High School, and the next year, they were king and queen of the senior prom, class of 1993. They married, worked hard and found a ranch out in Fort Lupton, where they raise their three kids: Colten, Braidynne Grace and Aubrey Hope.
The Brashear family was at the game on April 7, 2019. ESPN was there too for a clash between the Colorado Rockies and the Los Angeles Dodgers. Before the game, Mike and his family got to hang out on the field, shake hands with Rockies pitcher, Yency Almonte, and stand, cowboy hat over his heart, for the playing of the national anthem.
A cameraman flashed Mike’s photo on the big screen as an announcer said this: “Today, we are excited to welcome Mike Brashear to Coors Field. In 2014, Mike was diagnosed with a rare form of Acute Myeloid Leukemia. … So we are here to celebrate him as a father, husband, cowboy and member of our community.’’
Now, more people like Mike will get help.
Home runs to help fund cancer research
During the 2019 season, every time a Colorado Rockies player bounces one off the Hit the Mitt sign in left field, UCHealth donates $5,000 to The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society of the Rocky Mountain Region. All money raised goes directly to funding research to find a cure for blood cancer, a way for home runs to save lives like Mike’s.
“When I train horses, I try to relate to people to teach them how to get along with their horses, and I try to relate to what they do for a living. Baseball is a lot like life. There are several innings and if you steal a base, you’re taking an opportunity that you might not have. You might strike out, but you can be down in the game and hit a grand slam and win.’’
Mike’s leukemia battle started five years ago. The Brashears were living their lives, the kids were getting good grades in school and showing their animals in 4-H. Mike wasn’t feeling great. He felt out of breath and tired when he cleaned out the pens, but he sucked it up. He’s signed up for the Equine Comeback Challenge to rescue and train horses that otherwise were destined for the “killers,’’ as Mike puts it, and help them become viable horses.
Mike was branding calves when one of the bull calves kicked out and landed. “I got some pretty bad bruises on me and I was like, ‘holy hammers. It looks like I’ve been through a bad fight. I didn’t think about it, but Laura said, ‘This doesn’t look very good.’ ’’
When a doctor at UCHealth told Mike that he had acute promyelocytic leukemia, Laura and Vinny, a friend who was with them to hear the news, cried. Mike just smiled. “Well,’’ he said, “Now we know what we’ve got to do.
Rancher scores a manager for his cancer
Dr. Daniel Pollyea is a hematologist/oncologist at UCHealth University of Colorado Hospital on the Anschutz Medical Campus. He specializes in cancers of the blood, and is an associate professor at the University of Colorado School of Medicine. The University of Colorado Cancer Center is Colorado’s only designated National Cancer Institute cancer center.
Pollyea became Mike’s manager, the guy in the proverbial dugout who would call the plays.
He’s on the board of the regional Leukemia and Lymphoma Society, and he’s received research funding for his work from the national LLS organization. Pollyea said APL is a rare form of leukemia. Three decades ago, everyone who got it died. This type of cancer, a subtype of acute myeloid leukemia, wreaks havoc on an intricate system in the body that tells blood when to clot and when not to clot. When that system goes haywire, patients can suffer strokes or suffer severe internal bleeding.
In the early 1990s, though, research began to show that a synthetic form of Vitamin A, combined with arsenic – yes, arsenic – could cure patients when the cancer was caught early enough, Pollyea says.
Mike says he and Laura got a chuckle hearing that arsenic could be medicine. They’d gone to the Denver Museum of Nature and Science and learned how the poison was often used in the Old West to settle a score.
Mike and Laura sat the kids down and let them know that he had leukemia and that Dad would have to go away to the hospital for a while, that there was treatment and help and Pollyea and that yes, some people died from acute promyeloctic leukemia.
“We don’t hide nothing from our kids,’’ Mike says. “We live on a farm and death happens and it is very much a part of the cycle of life. I remember telling them, ‘Look, we have treatment, but this is bad. Some people have passed from this, but they have caught it in a time and we can deal with it. ‘ ’’
‘I ain’t gonna die’
Mike drew strength from the memory of his pa, Sylvester, who went by the name of Silver. Mike was in second or third grade when he found out his Pa had lung cancer, stomach cancer and liver cancer and was given six months to live. Silver lived 16 more years.
“So I kind of channeled my Pa a little bit, and I said: ‘I ain’t gonna die.’ ’’
Mike also told his grandma, who coincidentally had been diagnosed nine months earlier with lung cancer. Her response was simple: “You’ve got to fight, Mike. You’ve got to fight.’’
Cowboys aren’t the type of people who lie around, but Mike checked himself into a room on UCHealth University of Colorado Hospital’s 11th floor, the oncology unit. Every day for a month he took a pill for Vitamin A and a drip from an IV pole. It knocked him down, and he slept for about two hours after every treatment.
When Mike saw his numbers that measured the health of his blood skyrocket one day only to plummet the next, he couldn’t take the emotional roller coaster and told his nurse: “I don’t want to see that crap. I don’t care what my numbers are. I’m going to beat this. I’m going to live.’’
He had to get stronger. On a piece of paper, he drew a map that outlined the 11th floor, the distance from the nurse’s station to the elevator, from the bathroom to the corner around to the south side of the hospital.
“I measured every inch of that sucker, and I just started walking. I would walk as far as I could,’’ he says.
It was springtime in the Rockies, the time of year when cowboys are getting their horses ready. Not being able to go outside drove Mike nuts, so he made it his goal to walk three or four times a day and when he was strong enough, he walked across a skybridge, a sun-splashed corridor that connects two hospital buildings on the Anschutz Medical Campus.
From the skybridge, Mike bathed himself in Colorado’s blue sky and the warmth of the sun and with every step, like rounding the bases, he could feel himself getting closer to home.
Laura came to the hospital every day. She saw him when he hurt so bad he could feel his bones aching from the inside out, and she took care of things at home: the kids, the animals and the farm.
And to help Mike feel better, she organized fun nights in Mike’s hospital room on the 11th floor. She piled Colten, Braidynne Grace and Aubrey Hope into the car, got some snacks and had movie night. The girls hopped onto the bed and snuggled with Dad. Everybody took their shoes off and relaxed and for Mike, it was the best medicine, a night at the ballpark, peanuts and Cracker Jacks, a seventh-inning stretch.
After 27 days in a hospital bed, Laura took Mike home. He still had to make back-and-forth trips to the hospital for more treatment but he’d make it over the hard part.
A horse named Blue
A couple of months later, without Mike knowing, Laura had arranged for their friend, Devon, to bring her horse named Blue, the spitfire Bronc, to the Brashear home. Two years prior, Blue was headed for the killer, but Mike got into her head and allowed her to trust, and he calmed her into being a darn good horse.
That day, Mike watched from his front porch as Blue galloped around the pen, and then Devon walked up to Mike and said that Laura had told her that the doctor said he could ride again.
Mike bucked a little. Perhaps a few expletives flew, but Devon insisted that he step up to the plate and ride again. The horse that Mike had saved was now saving him.
“And I had a few bad days after that but from that point on I was thinking, ‘I’m going to get through this for sure now. I was 100 percent for sure at that moment that I was going to beat it.’ And in my mind, I was like, as long as I can keep riding, I’m going to be all right.’’
By the end of 2014, Mike had 10 treatments left, though he wanted to go into 2015 with a fresh start. He asked Pollyea if he could forego the last treatments, and the good doctor obliged. Mike’s 40th birthday was on Dec. 30, and his grandfather’s birthday was Dec. 31. Mike called his grandmother that day and told him that he was done with treatment. She died six days later. Mike is convinced that she lived long enough to hear that he’d won the fight.
This past January marked four years of remission for Mike. On Sunday night, he enjoyed a night at the ballpark with Laura and the kids and gave a nod to the big sign in left field.
Mike and Laura had one word for their experience at Coors Field: “surreal.’’
They’re joining all Rockies fans in rooting for plenty of home runs this season.
Then we’ll all be cheering as Nolan, Charlie, Trevor and others round the bases: first, second, third … home.
(This story first published April 12, 2019 on UCHealth Today.)