Raebel defeats cancer

AJ Raebel
This Homecoming will be special for AJ Raebel.

Actually, all the Homecomings from here on out will be quite special for him.

Raebel, who graduated in May 2009, looks at life a little different these days.

“I don’t take the little things in life  for granted anymore,” Raebel said. “Just things like playing catch and going for a run are gifts.”

It’s understandable Raebel, who last played for the Warhawk football team in 2007, feels this way knowing the year the two-time All-American linebacker has had.

Less than a year ago, Raebel was told he had testicular cancer. He would then have immediate surgery to remove his left testicle.

That was followed by chemotherapy sessions that tortured his body and caused hair loss.

“It takes every ounce of capacity to go through chemotherapy,” Raebel, 25, said. “I didn’t expect it to be as bad as it was. It was tougher than I expected.”

However, the battle was not over. Raebel needed to have surgery to remove his lymph nodes, leaving a nine-inch scar on his abdomen.

Though the surgery took place in May, it took months to recover from.

But that is all behind him, as Raebel is now cancer free.

“I’m sitting in a pretty good spot,” he said. “But [the cancer] is always in the back of your mind.”

While he won’t have another checkup until January, he was told there is a 93 percent chance the cancer will never come back.

That seven percent chance does worry him, though. If the cancer returns, the battle begins all over again.

Despite this, Raebel is simply enjoying life right now.

During the summer, he proposed to his girlfriend, became the defensive coordinator at Janesville Craig High School and is a substitute teacher in the Janesville School District.

Former Warhawk head coach Bob Berezowitz, who coached Raebel for three years, said Raebel’s confidence helped him get through this difficult period.

“I think it shows his determination,” Berezowitz said. “He fought it right away and kept a positive mindset.”

This was evident at his Cure 33 fundraiser last March when more than $4,500 was raised.

In total, more than $12,000 was raised for Raebel to offset travel expenses and medical bills. The money also helped him pay off some of his student loans.

“The money was a lifesaver,” Raebel said. “Just the support and compassion made dealing with it easier. It was absolutely incredible. I can’t thank the Whitewater community enough.”

Raebel initially had hopes of playing professional football after recovering. But he said that is no longer an option. 

“That is not happening,” said Raebel, who had a tryout with the Minnesota Vikings in 2008. “The chemo hurt the lungs too much. I’m find coaching and teaching. That’s just as rewarding.”

Raebel is now putting his attention on trying to raise awareness for testicular cancer.

With his positive mindset, there couldn’t be a better person to raise this awareness.

“I really never thought I was going to die,” Raebel said. “I just had to roll with the punches. I walked in confident.”

And he’s walking out, cancer free.

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