When Logan Michaels visited the University of Virginia in 2018 with his dream of becoming a Division I baseball player nearly reality, his family didn’t make the trip from Wisconsin with him. They stayed home as his father dealt with what they believed was a case of food poisoning.
Michaels returned from Virginia with his future becoming clear. He’d soon sign a letter of intent to play for the Cavaliers.
His father’s future, however, was suddenly in doubt.
Jeff Michaels had pancreatic cancer.
“It turns your world upside down,” Logan said.
On Friday, for the first time in Logan’s three seasons with UVa, Jeff will make the trip to Charlottesville to watch his son play in person at Disharoon Park. The visit is particularly meaningful for the Michaels family. Tuesday marks the three-year anniversary of Jeff’s cancer diagnosis.
The initial diagnosis
Jeff Michaels took his daughter, Ellie, out to dinner three years ago, hoping to celebrate her first job. Ellie would soon turn 16, and Jeff was thrilled to share in a special occasion with his daughter.
Upon returning home from dinner, Jeff felt ill. He assumed it was food poisoning and planned to tough it out through the night.
His wife urged him to go to the hospital that night and Jeff eventually agreed.
He underwent a series of tests and passed them all. He stayed in the hospital overnight, but doctors didn’t seem overly concerned. The next day when he was able to eat lunch without any issues, Jeff thought he’d be discharged.
Instead, his doctor stepped out of his room to learn Jeff’s test results. He returned with life-changing news.
“You’re not going anywhere,” Jeff recalled the doctor saying.
Jeff and his wife, Peg, cried when they heard the news. Perhaps the only silver lining, Jeff says, was that his kids weren’t there when he found out.
Jeff and Peg both lost a parent when they were young, so they knew well the devastation the diagnosis potentially held. They also knew they learned the news first and could control how the rest of the family took the news.
“We did tell them, as a family, and told them, ‘We’re gonna do what we do. We’re gonna be Michaels, and Michaels fight to the bitter end and we’re gonna do it optimistically,’” Jeff said.
Starting the fight
Fighting cancer is a challenge. Fighting one of the most lethal forms of cancer optimistically is an even taller task.
Jeff told his family they were welcome to look up what the diagnosis meant. They could see the statistics that would say his chances of making it two years were slim. His chances of lasting three years were even smaller.
What they found, though, Jeff didn’t want to know. He wanted to go through the fight without knowledge of the stats telling him how little time he might have left with his wife and kids.
Logan, like his other family members, researched what pancreatic cancer meant.
“I definitely looked up what it entailed,” Logan said. “Whenever you hear cancer you think of death, and it’s just one of those things where you see all these people around you who have family members who have gotten cancer and died, and you’re like hopefully that never happens. And then it happens to you and you find out it’s pancreatic cancer, which is usually one of the worst.”
The news and potential outcomes were crushing. Watching his dad go through the fight wasn’t easy on the baseball standout, especially as he competed for a team nearly 1,000 miles from home.
Logan vividly remembers his dad’s final round of chemo, which came in the fall of 2018. Logan visited during his first semester at Virginia to see his dad and support him as much as possible. Jeff was at one of the lowest points in his fight.
“That was definitely tough just because that was the sickest I’ve seen him be since he started the whole journey,” Logan said. “I remember going back to school after that and there was a part of me that just wanted to be done and go home and be done and help them and everything.”
Jeff survived the chemo and underwent a successful surgery on Dec. 31, 2018 to remove the tumor on his pancreas.
The Michaels family, especially Jeff, encouraged Logan to stay at Virginia.
Jeff even used Brett Favre, a local hero for his legendary play as the quarterback of the Green Bay Packers, as an example to why Logan could and should stay at Virginia. Favre famously played a Monday Night Football game one day after the death of his father, and he finished the game with 399 passing yards and four touchdowns.
Knowing how hard Logan worked to make it to Virginia — Logan used two stellar seasons at a junior college in Wisconsin to earn a Division I scholarship offer — Jeff encouraged him to stay in school and continue playing even as he battled cancer from afar. He also found comfort in watching Logan on video streams.
“One of the things I wanted to make sure was Logan stayed out there after my surgery and he played,” Jeff said. “One of the greatest things that happened for me was [UVa] televising the games, because honestly, I was in bed for eight months and having those games and then rewatching the games, it meant so much to me.”
The games, and the phone calls after the games, gave Jeff something to look forward to. He was able to attend a series at Notre Dame in 2019, but that’s the only time he’s seen Logan play in person for UVa. Everything else has been through video.
Watching Logan helped keep Jeff optimistic.
He also points to a pre-surgery gift around Christmas of 2018 that he’ll never forget. It’s a story that Jeff can’t tell without coming close to tears.
“This is emotional for me,” Jeff said, choking up.
Jeff paused, before asking Logan to share the rest of the story.
Logan went on to detail how he went to Brett Favre’s official Facebook page in 2018. He shared Jeff’s story with Favre’s Facebook page.
Favre holds a special place in the hearts of the Michaels family. They’re from Wisconsin, and Jeff could pass the quarterback’s doppelganger. As Favre became a star in the state, Jeff’s local fame grew as well.
“All of a sudden people started saying I look like him and wanting pictures with me,” Jeff said. “Logan can testify it must have been 500 times I had to get my picture with somebody, and so I went along with it. It was fun.”
A few days after sending the message, Logan’s phone lit up. Much to his surprise, he received a message from Favre. The former Green Bay Packers star sent Jeff a video, wishing him well in his surgery and to continue the fight.
Favre ended the supportive message with a joke that still brings a smile to Jeff’s face.
“By the way, I agree with your Madison pals, I do look a lot like you,” Favre said. “I’m sorry.”
Other glimpses of hope came through smaller moments.
Jeff attended a local hockey game on a pancreatic cancer awareness day. There were life-sized posters of people who lost their battle with pancreatic cancer at the game. Jeff made his way up to the booth and asked them to consider including posters of survivors at future events, not just those who lost their lives to the illness.
It was in that press area that he was introduced to a 14-year survivor of the disease. He broke into tears when he met the woman.
“All of a sudden I felt like, ‘Wow, this is actually possible. I can get some time out of this,’” Jeff said.
Another small moment came when one of his many doctors explained a treatment plan. The doctor nonchalantly used the word “cure” when describing the end goal.
“I stopped him and I said, ‘Wait, you’re going to cure me? Nobody said ‘cure’ before,’” Jeff said.
A doctor, for the first time in Jeff’s many interactions with medical professionals since his diagnosis, said he would cure Jeff.
“I’m holding you to that,” Jeff said.
A visit to Charlottesville
Three years after his cancer diagnosis, Jeff is doing well.
He’s been cancer free since his surgery on New Year’s Eve in 2018. He feels good and can do just about everything he’s always done.
There’s significant gratitude and hope as the Michaels family continues their journey. If the cancer returns, Jeff knows there aren’t many treatment options left. The likely scenario should the cancer come back would be to make end-of-life plans.
“I get checked every three months with a scan,” Jeff said. “You never know. It’s sort of like Christmas. You go the Christmas and either you get something really good or you don’t. And so I live my life in three-month increments.”
It could be a stressful way to live, but Jeff doesn’t quite view it that way.
“I see things the way I wish everybody would see them,” Jeff said.
The diagnosis gave Jeff a newfound perspective. He appreciates the little things more than he ever did before.
“When it rains, I actually watch the rain,” Jeff said. “When it snows I watch the snow. When the wind blows, I watch the trees. I don’t miss anything.”
Friday, he’ll walk into Disharoon Park for the first time. He’ll hear the crack of the bat and the sound of the ball popping into Logan’s glove behind home plate. Watching on TV was nice, but nothing quite beats the in-person baseball experience.
“This is going to be the first time that I really feel like a human being, to actually go and enjoy baseball in person,” Jeff said.
Friday, Jeff will sit down to watch the baseball player he knew was gifted when he was just two years old. It turns out that Jeff, Logan’s little league coach, has a good eye for talent.
Logan has been one of Virginia’s most productive players, offering a steady bat in the team’s lineup for three seasons and defensive excellence behind the plate. He’s as consistent a presence as Virginia has on its roster.
“He’s the leader on our team,” head coach Brian O’Connor said. “We have a number of leaders, but I’d say he’s the guy that a lot of players look to. He’s somebody that I seek his counsel a lot on how the team is doing and certain thing he feels that from a player perspective can be done to help the ball club.”
UVa named him the team MVP for the shortened 2020 season. He led the team with six doubles in 57 at-bats and hit .316.
Jeff will watch his son and one of UVa’s top leaders Friday, nearly three years to the day after he was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. While he avoided the statistics about his cancer as much as possible, Jeff knows he was given about a 5 in 100 chance to still be alive today.
“When I see that I’m in the three year [range], to me, it means I’m in the five [percent],” Jeff said. “To be in the five from where I was, it’s so emotional.”
He remembers pleading with God to give him two years of life after his diagnosis. He wanted to see his daughter graduate high school.
“After she got out of high school, I felt bad that I had to ask for another deal,” Jeff laughed.
The latest deal has Jeff coming to Charlottesville. After being unable to accompany Logan on his official visit in 2018, Jeff will watch his son play a home game for an ACC team after an unimaginable three years.
The family has grown closer over those years, and Jeff views the weekend as a celebration of their journey.
For some, this weekend’s games against Louisville are just part of an ACC baseball series. For the Michaels family, it’s much more.
“It’s a miracle,” Logan said.