By Sue DeWerff | Photo by Tim Ebaugh Photography
Two-time eye cancer survivor Mike Rodgers looks much younger than his 49 years. Especially for someone who has endured endless hours of surgery and chemotherapy throughout his child and young adult years.
The professional skateboarder and founder/CEO of “Grind for Life,” a Cocoa Beach based nonprofit that provides financial assistance to cancer patients for travel to treatment facilities, is a walking billboard of sorts when it comes to the ravages of cancer and survival.
“I grew up a lot faster that most of my friends as a kid,” said Mike, who now frequently wears a bandage over his right eye that he lost to the rare sarcoma cancer. He was first diagnosed with the disease at age 12.
After surgery and almost two years of chemo and radiation, Mike was told he would beat the disease.
It was 25 years later, while managing a skate park not far from his Lake Worth home, that he faced his second battle. This time, after a single sarcoma cell, missed as a pre-teen, was found growing full force behind his right eye, he endured a 17-hour “cranial-facial resection surgery.” Though he lost his eye, along with part of his cheekbone and several teeth, it was his positive attitude that then, and has since, kept him going.
In an effort to help others stricken with cancer after he again emerged a cancer survivor, he opened “Grind for Life” in 2003. The charity, which operates the thrift store, “Thrift for Life,” located at 2370 S. Atlantic Ave., just north of Patrick Air Force Base; helps fund the organization’s missions and activities.
Now 11 years cancer free, Mike continues to take his mission to help others on the road, traveling to skate parks around the nation to both compete and represent the cause.
When not teaching kids new tricks on the skateboard, he is speaking to them about everything from nutrition, healthy lifestyles, staying positive and taking what he refers to as the “right paths” in life.
“One of my fondest memories during my journey with Grind for Life was during the U.S. Open of Surfing in California a few years ago. I was able to bring a 10-year-old leukemia patient named Lawrence Garcia to this event,” said Mike. “He got to meet many of the best surfers and skateboarders in the world. The look in his eyes said it all.
Though he passed on not long after this, I am so lucky to have had the opportunity to connect with him and his family and in some small way touch his life. He certainly touched mine,” Mike smiled.
Mike’s long-term goal for the nonprofit is to own several apartments near the world-renowned Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York, where he was treated. Though he said this may be a long way off, anything is possible.
“It is all about networking, letting folks know about our mission. Every dollar or household item or article of clothing donated to the thrift shop goes a long way in helping a lot of people. We raised close to $200,000 last year.”
Mike, who said he stays young by skateboarding and reaching out to others in support of his organization, continues to count the days he has been cancer free.
“I’m lucky to be here and lucky to be talking to you about my organization,” he confided.
For more information or to donate visit GrindForLife.org or call (561) 252-3839.