For as long as he can remember, joining the Navy was an integral part of Bryan Fazio’s life plan.
In 2009, after receiving his bachelor’s degree in political science from Concordia University, Fazio finally got his chance. He joined the Navy with great enthusiasm and the expectation of a long military career.
Later that year, during training, he went for a checkup after having trouble breathing. That visit returned unthinkable news. He had a 15-centimeter tumor in his chest.
Additional testing didn’t improve the situation. He was diagnosed with Stage 2 Hodgkin’s lymphoma, typically a treatable cancer. His was a very aggressive form. At 22 years old, he learned he had a 15 percent chance of survival.
The news hit Fazio hard, but he promised himself he would fight back with every tool is his arsenal. Over the past four years, this has included radiation treatments, six rounds of chemotherapy and two bone-marrow transplants—one from his brother. Despite his medical team’s best efforts, the cancer wouldn’t surrender. Even after periods of remission it came back, spreading even faster than before.
He was forced to take medical leave from the Navy, his dreams of a military career in jeopardy.
As one door was closing, Fazio knew he would find another way to pursue his career goals.
In August 2011, he enrolled in Brandman University’s MBA program to send his family, friends and—most importantly—his cancer, a message that he was not going to lay down and die. He planned to stand tall and fight, not just for his life, but for the quality of his existence.
“I cannot allow this disease to stop me from trying to achieve my dreams. Every day is a gift and I am going to make the most out of every hour of every day I have left,” Fazio said.
In October 2012, the failed medical treatments forced the Navy to medically retire Fazio. It was then he decided to double up on his classes to fast track his degree, walking at graduation in May and finishing the last class for his MBA in mid-August.
He relied heavily on his supportive mother, Sheryl Silver. She served as his caretaker and chauffeur, taking him to school and doctor visits because the treatments and their side effects left him so fatigued and weak that he sometimes needed a cane to walk.
His ordeal has strengthened his ties to his mother and brother and his faith in a higher power. Fazio believes he is living the life he was meant to live despite the hurdles he has had to overcome to get to this point in his journey.
“Bryan Fazio’s story has touched the entire Brandman community and we believe he can serve as a role model for other sick or wounded veterans,” said Chancellor Gary Brahm. “Despite the fact that his time on this Earth may be limited, I am confident that his work with us to create a scholarship to help other service men and women gain access to a university education will provide him with a long-lasting legacy.”
With his MBA degree now framed on the wall, Fazio has dreams of becoming a legal advocate for veterans who need help reintegrating into civilian life. He’s applied to several law schools and is ready to take on his next challenge. In addition, he is excited to help promote the scholarship he created with Brandman. The first recipient will be selected shortly and he hopes people inside and outside the university community will contribute funds to help sick and injured veterans pay for their education.
In February, Fazio was told he had nine months to live. After undergoing chemotherapy for several tumors, his cancer was in remission in late November. Given his prognosis, he knows that he can only control his reaction to the disease.
The images of a Navy veteran and a cancer patient conjure up two very different images. With Bryan Fazio, those images aren’t so divergent. He is a man of tremendous strength, courage and humility, and he credits much of his ambition and desire to succeed to his military training and the values instilled in him during his time in the Navy.
Originally published on page 16 of USO On Patrol Magazine Winter 2013-2014.