|In November of 2007, longtime Tyrone photographer Steve Michaels, who recently turned 63 years old on August 21, was diagnosed with Pancreatic cancer.
It’s the same type of cancer that actor Patrick Swayze was recently diagnosed with, by which Steve says he tracks Swayze’s condition on the Internet to give him hope in his fight.
Steve’s cancer is terminal. Only around five percent of the people who are diagnosed with Pancreatic cancer survive. He was given six months to live.
The odds aren’t good for Steve, but he is determined and has felt great for the past two weeks.
Dr. Thomas Mextorf, DO, of Blair Medical Associates in Tyrone and sports physician for the school district, sent Steve to Pittsburgh’s UPMC Hospital to get help. Dr. Mextorf recently saved Steve’s life four weeks ago when fluid came up around his heart and caused it to fail.
UPMC sent Steve to Dr. Mark Keating, MD at Altoona’s Blair Medical Oncology Department, who is recognized as one of the best cancer doctor’s in the area.
“Dr. Mextorf is the one who did everything for me,” noted Steve. “He said there’s something wrong with me, and he sent me to Pittsburgh – I swear by that guy.”
Steve has been taking snapshots of Tyrone and Bellwood-Antis athletes since 1971. He began working at Westvaco Paper Mill after high school in 1964, until he was laid off in ’71. Steve then went to work at Chicago Rivet the following year, all while taking photographs for The Daily Herald, where he worked his way up from receiving $2.50 a picture to $4 for each published photo.
Steve married his loving wife, Mary, in May of 1966. Eventually, he began his own photography business, Michaels Photography, while still working at the Rivet. Today, Mary owns and runs the business, but through Steve’s bout with cancer, he manages to take a few pictures when he feels up to it.
The one thing Steve doesn’t have a lot of, is time. Every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday he travels to Altoona’s Blair Medical Associates for kidney dialysis. Once every three weeks, he spends his Thursday’s taking chemotherapy.
With the 70th annual “Backyard Brawl” looming tomorrow night between Tyrone and neighboring Bellwood-Antis, the rival high school football game takes on a whole new meaning for Steve. It all started at Tyrone’s final football game in the district playoffs against Central Cambria last year.
“I was sitting on the bench (at Mansion Park) talking to Dr. Mextorf and he was already wanting to send me to Pittsburgh for biopsies to make sure I was alright,” said Steve. “I told him I was going to be here next year, and he wasn’t real sure about that.”
That conversation had a major impact on Steve, because when he was diagnosed he said he just “hated everybody.” It took him three weeks to get back on track and focus on his task ahead, which he credits to “prayer” and the “Lord.”
“It’s him,” stated Steve. “I’m not really fighting it that much, I just said that I’m not going anywhere.”
Steve also noted that his doctors, all of the area churches, his family, and his wife have been terrific through his bout with cancer. He said that people come up to him that he doesn’t even know and tells him that he is in their prayers.
“Mary’s been good and she keeps an eye on me,” said Steve. “I’m glad she stayed with me, because I was really discouraged.”
It’s been over a year and a half since Steve was diagnosed with cancer, far beyond his given six months to live. Come Friday night, the Tyrone and Bellwood-Antis faithful will see Steve once again on the sidelines capturing the highlights of the game.
“It’ll feel good, because I wasn’t suppose to be there,” stated Steve. “It’ll just feel really good. I really wanted to see Bellwood and Tyrone.”
Tyrone’s football players and coaches have also been supportive of Steve’s battle and goal to watch another football season. The team sang him happy birthday at the annual “Meet the Eagles” night this past Thursday, and last year the football booster’s and head coach John Franco presented him with a helmet at the annual football banquet.
“That was worth more than a million dollars, because the boosters gave me that helmet,” said Steve. “That was enough there, it’s all I ever wanted.”
High school sports has always been a passion for Steve. Watching the kids go through the sports programs and learning means a lot to him. He doesn’t really consider himself a role model for kids, but if he could pass on one thing, he wants kids to know that they can do anything they want to do.
Steve’s love for taking sports photographs is how he is defined by the community. He’s been doing it for 37 years for very little pay, but instead a world of joy in return.
Life’s different now for Steve. He really can’t walk up a hill anymore, because it takes too much out of him. He can’t be as active in his life as he would like to be, but his faith and positive attitude has him beating the odds every day.
“A lot of doctors can’t figure out why I’m not sick,” noted Steve. “I do get sick, but I’m not in the pain I’m suppose to be in. I have pain medication, but I don’t take it.”
Steve expects Friday night to be very emotional, but he also doesn’t consider it the last football game he will ever see. He plans on seeing the Golden Eagles all the way through the playoffs if the team puts on another great run.
Many times people wonder why bad things happen to good people. A person can lead a good life, but receive all the bad breaks. When Steve was first diagnosed he felt that way, when all he wanted to do was retire and travel. Now his time is limited to weekends between treatments.
“I don’t want to feel special, I’m just glad of where I am at and that I’m here,” said Steve. “I live day by day now and I have to behave myself, because I don’t know if I’m going to get sick tomorrow – I don’t know what’s going to happen.”
One place he will be is Gray-Vets Memorial Field on Friday night. Even if he’s having a bad day, his wife said she will bring him in his wheelchair. This game means that much to him. Leaving the field at the end of the game will mean just as much.
“I got there,” said Steve about walking off of Gray Field Friday after the game. “That’s all I think and care about, that I’m there – it’s all I wanted to do.”
As far as the game, Steve predicts Tyrone to upend the Bellwood-Antis Blue Devils by the score of 37-6.