Johnny Mitchell Wins Bronze
Invictus Games

From 8% Chance Of Survival To Winning A Bronze Medal

Johnny Mitchell fought off a rare and aggressive cancer to win a bronze medal at the Invictus Games.

Johnny Mitchell Wins Bronze

Johnny Mitchell and powerlifting coach Ben celebrate the moment the bronze medal was won (Getty Images/Invictus Games Sydney 2018).

After being diagnosed with cancer in 2012 and given an eight per cent chance of survival, Johnny 'Mitch' Mitchell has defied all odds to win a bronze in middleweight powerlifting.

The former sergeant in the Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers (REME) and captain of the powerlifting team said:

"It's making me feel as light as a feather.

"I’ve been sat down but I can’t physically eat, I’m just trying to take in fluids because I don’t want to do anything but I want to do everything if that makes sense.

"I’m just on such a high, I still can’t believe it, I can’t believe I’m here."

Johnny's 162kg lift that won him his bronze medal.

'Choked Out'

Back in 2011, Johnny came back from a tour of Afghanistan when he realised something wasn't right.

During the day he was at his peak fitness, training regularly and feeling great in his weight training and running. 

However, when it got to around 10pm at night Johnny would begin to feel extremely unwell:

"It felt like I was being choked out."

His wife Lisa, who was pregnant at the time with their daughter Poppy (named after finding out they were expecting a child on Remembrance Day) would have to help Johnny into an ice bath for 30 seconds, before helping him out and wrapping him in a blanket to warm up then to go back into the ice bath.

This procedure repeated itself throughout the night.

Johnny finally went to the doctors to tell them what was happening, but was misdiagnosed with a cold, food poisoning and then after losing a friend to cancer they believed he could have sympathy pains.

But Johnny persisted, returning to the doctors each time to tell them he still wasn't feeling any better.

His blood tests and X-rays were coming back clear so the doctors said they would have to go down the psychosis treatment route.

Johnny had agreed to this but only if they had exhausted every physical test possible.

So after one last X-ray Johnny received the news that he was dreading.

The very last X-ray had shown a huge mass in his chest and he would have to go to a specialist straight away.

At the hospital two doctors came Johnny remembers when they spoke to him:

"They played good cop and bad cop."

One told him the medical information he needed to know and the other told him simply he had Non-Hodgkin lymphoma, which was still an incorrect diagnosis.

They had found a 1kg mass of cancer at the top of his chest.

However, Johnny actually had 5kg of leukaemia scattered all over his body.

Johnny was booked in for a biopsy, where he was carted into a small curtained off area at the hospital, this is where things took a turn for the worst.

The first thing the doctor did was take some blood, after that they asked Johnny to shave his chest whilst they tested his blood, which once again came back clear.

The doctor then by chance decided to test his blood one last time and in the space of 10 minutes his bone marrow had completely solidified, all his white blood cells and platelets had gone, so he was unable to clot.

"They did an emergency tourniquet on me, no anaesthetic, rolled me over, I had about four nurses trying to pin me down, I was biting down on a hand wrap thing so I could not feel the pain, they were screaming to Lisa [his wife] 'Get out! Get out!'.

"They were flapping and I was thinking 'what's going on here', so they put me in the foetal position, got an eight-inch needle, tried to put it inside my hip and I could feel it just bending, so it wasn't even going in the hip and they needed to get some bone marrow out. 

"They took this apple corer, said to the nurses 'right pin him' even more nurses came.

"I was like 16 stone, I didn't have an ounce of fat, I was at my physical peak, I have never been as fit as before it all happened, and they pinned me down and he got this apple corer and just went bang!

"[They] smashed it into my hip and you could just hear the bone... and he just snapped this piece of bone out my hip."

The test results on Johnny's bone came back in about five minutes, they packed his hip and then the doctor took him and his wife Lisa to a room:

"I was told I have two to eight per cent chance of survival, that's it, and I was just like 'Right okay, what do we do from here?'"

Johnny was then taken upstairs to a ward where he was straight away hooked up to multiple drips, full of bags for steroids, chemotherapy and blood platelets.

Johnny believed that if it hasn't been for the drastic and quick actions of Dr Tobias Menner that day he wouldn't be alive.

And it was Tobias who woke him the next morning and said "right let's go, let's get started" and that is when Johnny's journey began.

Johnny 'Mitch' Mitchell and his bronze medal

Johnny believes it is because of his fitness in the military he managed to get through it all: "I don’t smoke and I don’t drink - apart from Remembrance Sunday." 

"I’m not good at a lot of things but I was a good soldier and I pride myself on that and my guys know that, no matter what I did, I was at the top of everything and I made sure of that - it wasn’t a pride thing it was because I belonged".

Johnny underwent chemo for five years, but says "I refuse to get beat by anything.

He believed in his heart of hearts that he would beat the cancer.

There was only one point in his treatment where he gave up: "I was at my lowest weight, just over seven stone, I had Lisa next to me and she was asleep and I was halfway through the intense chemo and I said a little prayer to be fair.

"I said look I’m ready to go, if I go I’ve had a top life and I’ve done exactly what I’ve done and my wife and kids are going to be looked after I have such an amazing support system.

"I’ve got a support system in my family and my friends. I’ve got people so I said 'Look I’m ready to go so take me, I’m good to go, I’ve had enough'."

He says he woke up in the morning and gave himself a stern talking to and told himself to 'pull his finger out and crack on'.

Unfortunately, Johnny will never be totally cancer free, his acute lymphoblastic leukaemia is in "hibernation", it will never go.

He is in remission but is under constant surveillance for the rest of his life:

"When people say live each day as if it's your last I literally do. I have to"

He thanks his fitness from the military, his family and mother-in-law who nursed him when he was at his sickest and the family of nurses who have looked after him from the beginning for his recovery. 

He also believes cryotherapy has helped him get back to his fittest.

He said it was hard to accept that he will never be 100% fit again like he was before the cancer, but now has a new understanding of what his 100% fitness is for him.

Since winning the bronze medal the smile has not moved from his face:

"Invictus is something that makes you feel 100%. 

"When everyone asks me 'Do you enjoy it, as in the civvy street? Are you happy?', I always say I’m 99.9% happy because I’ve always got that 0.1% missing for the Army, because I’m not there, but this has taken it to a million per cent!"

Keep up to date with the 2018 Invictus Games here.