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Striking Out Cancer - Part One

By Kyle Deckelbaum, kdeckelbaum@wkbt.com
Published On: Apr 30 2014 06:04:51 PM CDT
Updated On: Apr 30 2014 07:43:58 PM CDT

He played professional baseball, but nothing can compare to what this Spring Grove native faced two years ago.

MINNEAPOLIS (WKBT) -

If you think of life like a roller coaster, then Todd Oakes has had one of the most extreme rides around.

"Yeah, you could say that. He's kind of done it all, been through it all, ups, downs, all that kind of stuff," said Tyler Oakes, his son, and the pitching coach at North Dakota State.

"Every time he talks, everyone just kind of shuts up and listens to him," Golden Gophers outfielder Bobby Juan said, a Central grad.

"He's a person that cares sincerely about other people," said Golden Gophers Head Baseball Coach John Anderson.

It all started in the tiny Minnesota town of Spring Grove.

"Starting third baseman for the Spring Grove Lions as a seventh grader," Todd pointed out.

"I still love to go back there. Just the hills, the rivers, the creeks, the hunting."

Todd played two years at Waldorf College, then transferred to Nebraska. He was drafted by the San Francisco Giants in 1983.

"It was a lifelong dream to play professional baseball," Todd said.

He played in the minors for three seasons, then decided to move on.

"Well I didn't decide to do that. The Giants decided that for me.

"When you start out, you go OK, here we go. Here's my road to the big leagues. Then you quickly find out that it's a long, winding road."

For Todd, so too is life.

"In 2012 I just started feeling lousy," Todd said. "You get worn down every season, you do, with the travel and the whole bit. So I just thought it was just another season you're trying to grind through. But it got to the point where coming to work each day, walking up the flight of stairs, walking from one end of the building to the other, I was exhausted."

He finally saw a doctor.

"He got the blood results back, I could see, you know, you can read people's body language. And I could see there was a lot of concern on his face.

"So I went home and told my wife what was going on and the next morning he called me, seven, eight o'clock in the morning. He said we need you to come up to the emergency room, and you should pack a bag.

"They said we're almost positive that you have acute myeloid leukemia."

"It was hard because we missed him here. I missed him," Anderson said. "He's a friend, he's a colleague, he's an important part of this program. It was a void. The hardest part was not knowing whether he's going to be back."

But Todd wasn't about to let cancer strike him out.

"Usually when adversity happens, cancer or something, what do people say? Why me? Why is this happening to me? I'm a good person, I'm a man of faith. Why is this happening to me? There's books out there, why do bad things happen to good people? That's most of the time what we think and we just decided we're not going to use this as a sympathy thing. We took the attitude of why not me?"

He underwent a stem cell transplant that September. His brother was the match.

"I just had my year and a half bone marrow biopsy a couple weeks ago and for about the third or fourth time, I was able to see my doctor write on my medical form, complete remission, 100 percent your brother's stem cells. Which is exactly what you want to hear."

Todd spent a total of 80 days in the hospital. It wasn't long after that, he returned to the diamond.

"With the struggles he went through, with the whole hospital stays, chemotherapy, and him being able to get back out here and do what he loves, and be with the guys, and just have another opportunity to be himself and get back at it is pretty special," Tyler said of his dad.

"He's here now and it's normal again," said Anderson. "That's been the best part of having him back."

"It's a testament of how strong of a guy he is and how strong-willed he is," Juan said.

"It's a journey, like everything else," said Oakes. And you know, I'm only 53. So there's been a lot of things that have happened. But who knows what's ahead too?"

To donate to Todd's cause, click here.

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