SCHRIEVER AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. --
It was a routine check-up for Chief Master Sgt. Michael Rozneck, Delta 8 special projects, when he pointed out a strange pain he was experiencing in 2019.
His doctor couldn’t explain the cause of the pain and scheduled an ultrasound two days later.
Another day passed and Rozneck received a call while celebrating his daughter’s birthday. He was instructed to report to Evans Army Community Hospital on Fort Carson Army Post, Colorado at 9 a.m. the next morning.
At the appointment, Rozneck learned that he had stage one testicular cancer, and in just two hours he would undergo emergency surgery.
“It never crosses your mind,” Rozneck said. “The doctor told me, ‘I think you have cancer,’ and I immediately started to think, ‘I’m going to die.’”
After a successful surgery, Rozneck said the doctors told him there was a 20-30% chance the cancer would return.
“I’m not a gambling man,” he said. “I guess I got unlucky because the cancer came back.”
After learning of the cancer’s return about a year later, Rozneck decided to begin chemo therapy in June 2020. However, this time the cancer had spread to two of his lymph nodes and was now stage two.
“It was the worst and most difficult thing I’ve ever done,” he said. “You’re basically poisoning your body to beat the cancer and it comes down to ‘Are you stronger than the chemo?’ and ‘Can you outlast it?’’’
Rozneck endured 23 rounds of high-dosage chemo therapy across the span of nine weeks, each session lasting around five hours. He described the experience as brutal, stating it gradually got worse. There were days he couldn’t walk, eat and felt like he was going to vomit.
“My family had to see daddy get sick and weak,” Rozneck said. “They had to watch me physically deteriorate and they couldn’t do anything about it. I think that was the hardest part of it all.”
According to the American Cancer Society’s website, testicular cancer primarily affects young and middle-aged men, with the average age of diagnosis being 33. However, it has a 95% survival rate and is considered to be one of the most curable cancers.
“No matter how many times I repeated the statistics and the survival rate, my mind would still go to a dark place,” Rozneck said. “There were points in the treatment when I did not want to go and I wanted to give up. You have to get through the next second, fight through the next minute and you’ll look back and think, ‘Why did I even think about giving up?’”
Rozneck finished his final round of chemo July 28, and learned there was no sign of the cancer Sept. 14, 2020. He has now returned to work full-time, saying he missed putting the uniform on daily.
Through it all, Rozneck said his wife was like a robot, always looking to do the next thing to help him. But when she heard the cancer was gone, she broke down in tears.
“[There’s] too many emotions to put into words,” said Karrie Rozneck, Rozneck’s wife. “The fear and worry of losing the love of my life was lifted.”
Rozneck said he relied heavily on his faith, family and his friends’ and co-workers’ support to get through the process. He said his teammates gave him gift cards to order food and made gift baskets for him and his family. Rozneck said they offered to make food, but due to COVID-19 and his suppressed immune system from the chemo therapy, he had to decline. Rozneck specifically said Capt. Lauren Hughes, former Schriever chaplain, helped navigate him through some of his toughest times.
“Chief’s story reminds us of our humanity and mortality,” Hughes said. “We’ve all experienced difficult times in life, but sometimes we forget that our leaders are humans, too. To hear that your Chief faced a seemingly ‘undefeatable opponent’ is sobering and makes you reflect on what’s really important in life. He could have been grief stricken, but he had a great support system, leaned into what gave him hope and was mentally determined to defeat cancer.”
Despite battling and beating stage two testicular cancer, Rozneck said he doesn’t view his story as anything special. He hopes Airmen hear his story and feel safe to reach out for help or mentorship if they’re going through a similar experience.
“There [are] two days of the week you should never worry about and that’s yesterday and tomorrow,” Rozneck said. “Take care of today and tomorrow will take care of itself. I’ve learned to ‘just be.’ Just be today, be in the moment, give your attention to who you’re with and just focus on where you’re at.”