GREEN BAY — Jeff Janis was stunned like everyone else in the Packers’ organization upon hearing the news this past week that former Green Bay tight end Mitchell Henry has been diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia.
Henry, who signed with the Packers as an undrafted free agent in 2015, went to training camp in Green Bay the past two summers and spent time on the team’s practice squad last season.
Both avid outdoorsmen, Janis and Henry quickly developed a friendship during their two years together, including several turkey-hunting expeditions in the Green Bay area.
When Henry texted Janis recently to let him know about the diagnosis, the Packers’ third-year receiver was floored.
“It’s obviously something that was unexpected,” Janis said. “He started having some pain in his shoulder and went and got it looked at. They found a mass and just did more testing and found that out. … I just keep praying for him.”
According to the National Cancer Institute, AML is a rare form of cancer in which the bone marrow makes abnormal myeloblasts (a type of white blood cell), red blood cells, or platelets. The average lifetime risk is less than half of 1 percent, according to the American Cancer Society.
Awareness for AML in the sports community has grown in recent years following NBA sideline reporter Craig Sager’s diagnosis in 2014.
Henry’s brother, Ben, recently created a YouCaring crowdfunding page to raise money for Mitchell’s cancer treatment and help find a match for a bone marrow transplant through BeTheMatch, which helps manage the national bone marrow registry list.
The family is also planning to hold a bone marrow donor registrant drive in January in Elizabethtown, Ky.
Ben wrote on the page that it was actually because of Henry breaking his hand during training camp with Green Bay that he currently has health insurance.
Henry had a brief stint on the Baltimore Ravens’ practice squad in November before returning home to Kentucky to go hunting with his father and spent time with his wife, Madison. It was when he returned home that he began to experience pain in the shoulder.
Doctors took an MRI of his shoulder and ran a battery of tests before informing him of the diagnosis.
During his Monday afternoon news conference, Packers Head Coach Mike McCarthy pledged to support Henry on behalf of the organization.
“I think it knocked all of us over,” McCarthy said. “Frankly, it explained some things, too, because Mitchell just wasn’t quite right in training camp.
“We don’t know the extent of it. We just know what the initial diagnosis is, but he will definitely get support from the Green Bay Packers.”
Janis, who lost his own father to liver cancer in 2010, is one of several current and former Packers who expressed their support of Henry on social media following Green Bay’s 21-13 win over Houston on Sunday afternoon.
“It can bring a lot of awareness towards it because it’s something that a lot of people don’t have symptoms of,” Janis said. “It can just hit you out of nowhere. Maybe if it gets somebody else to get more checkups, physicals, blood work, whatever. If it can help in that way, I think that would be a good thing.”
Janis has stayed in contact with Henry over the past week. He said his friend remains in good spirits.
“We still talk about hunting even though all this is going on,” Janis said. “We still send each other pictures of deer we have on camera. He’s in pretty good spirits and he’s going to fight it hard.”
To learn more about Henry and how you can donate, please visit: https://www.youcaring.com/mitchellhenry-707055