Bellator Veteran AJ Siscoe- From Chemo to the Cage
I haven’t actually met my friend AJ “Let’s Go” Siscoe in person yet, but fighting (and Facebook) brought us together. To say that some people are born to fight is often cliché to me because I’ve heard that said about so many people. That’s AJ, and the boy from St. Charles has the track record to prove it.
“I was born in Bloomington, Illinois and lived there until I was two. My mom and dad had split up, and my mom and I moved to St. Charles, Missouri to live with my grandma. Growing up, I got kicked out of 3 different daycares because I played too rough with the other kids and had SEVERE ADHD. They called me too aggressive for care.”
The three-sport grade and middle school athlete then walked into a Bloomington gym during his later years of high school to help his father train for a one-and-done fight (an item on his bucket list) only to have his first experience with the UFC.
“I was INSTANTLY hooked. The first time I was in the gym I “sparred” with UFC and The Ultimate Fighter’s Chris Tickle. He was going about 20 percent but he hit me with a 1-2 combo, and I was out on my feet. They say when you get hit you either get the h*** in or get the h*** out…I don’t know what it was but I was addicted after that first training session.
I ended up training on weekends when I would visit my dad. I wasted no time in taking my first amateur fight a month after I turned 18. It’s crazy to think if he wouldn’t have fought I might have never found MMA.”
“Let’s Go” went 8-4 overall (two TKOs and four submissions, three in the first round), capturing three separate amateur championships before life was next up to give him a punch in the chest. The punch then formed a mass.
“I had stage three Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. The mass was growing in lymph nodes between my heart and lung. it eventually grew to the size where it grew over my lung and was putting pressure on it and eventually made it collapse. After my first round of chemo, it was the same size as my lung. they had originally thought it was stage four (meaning it spread to my bones and other places in my body causing my rate of survival to drop and causing me to have to receive a bone marrow transplant) but luckily it hadn’t got to that point yet.”
“I didn’t notice anything was wrong until after/during my fight for Bellator (June of 2015). My mom could kind of tell something was up when I came back home for fight week (I was living in Florida and training with the Blackzillians). She said I was just kind of out of it, not there at all times and didn’t seem excited or in the moment. I was also tired ALL the time.”
No matter how you dress it up, a cage fight has the ability to kill you. Imagine debuting for Bellator in AJ’s situation as drowning with no way to reach the surface.
“I felt fine during the first round, but when I sat on the stool in between rounds it just felt like every ounce of energy I had was just gone. I didn’t even feel like I had the energy to stand back up. I stood up to start round two, and I felt like my feet were cemented in cinder blocks. My body was zapped. I fought at 135 pounds, and when I returned back to Florida a week later I was only 142-145 because I wasn’t eating. Most fighters just balloon back up after having a fight. Not me. I was eating one meal a day MAYBE, and I don’t think with the amount I was eating you could classify it as a meal. I was sleeping 18-22 hours a day, had zero energy, and would cough constantly.”
“It’s really dumb looking back and seeing all the signs that were there and I didn’t realize how sick I was. I just ignored it and kept trying to push through. I was training at one of the top gyms in the world. The opportunity was too great for me to just let it pass me up. I went to see a doctor down in Florida, and he told me I was just allergic to something locally and gave me steroids and sent me on my way. Everybody was extremely devastated when they found out. Who would have thought a 24-year-old professional athlete would be diagnosed with cancer!?”
Shortly after his Bellator debut, AJ found himself in a hospital bed low on blood with a collapsed lung and pneumonia in addition to the cancerous mass that was actively growing and needed to have his blood drawn every six hours.
“They decided I was in such bad shape I needed to begin chemo immediately. I wasn’t scheduled to begin until a week and a half later or two weeks, I think, and they decided I couldn’t wait that long. I had to have surgery to have my port placed and a bone marrow biopsy (the worst pain of my life) to see if the cancer had spread to my bones or not. A bone marrow biopsy is when they take a drill and drill into your hip bone to remove marrow to test it. it literally feels like somebody sucking your soul through a hole in your hip.
“It was crazy to think how hard I had worked and how much time I had put in to get to this point. To be honest it took me about a month to six weeks to get my head out of my ass and realize I was better and stronger than the cancer that was trying to kill me.”
From there, AJ was doing chemo on a six-cycle schedule. One cycle takes three weeks. He also needed shots to raise his white blood cell count to be able to fight off other diseases. When his cell numbers got to where they needed to be, he’d rest for about six day– his “good week”– a chance for him to doing things other than go to treatment along with getting to eat real food.
“It was literally like prison. The cycles don’t sound that rough, but I was being given the strongest chemo on the market…”
“I was at the gym lifting weights literally five minutes after they took the needle out of me for my last chemo. It wasn’t anything crazy, but it was a step in the right direction. It took me about three months to start to see improvements and start to better myself. At about the six-month mark, I started to feel somewhere close to normal as far as physical activity. It was an extremely long and painful process.”
“I don’t think I chose fighting, I think I’ve always been a fighter. A lot of people don’t know this, but I almost died a couple of times as an infant. I had severe asthma attacks, and two or three of them almost took my life. No matter how bad the situation, whether it be severe asthma or cancer, I always seem to pull through. No matter how many times you knock me down I get back up stronger and tougher. There is no quit in me.”
AJ’s road back to the major leagues begins at Shamrock FC 279 on December 2 at River City Casino in St. Louis.
“I feel more pressure now because I’ve taken it upon myself to represent anybody who is fighting cancer or has fought cancer. My tag for this fight is “For those fighting, For those that have Won, and For those we have lost”. I want to show people that even if they are fighting something horrible, no matter how terrible it looks now, it won’t always look like this. You can overcome this and even go on to do great, amazing things with your life. You were dealt a sh***y hand, but anything you want in this life is possible, don’t give up.”
“I don’t see me surviving cancer and going through all the things I have to step back in the cage just to fall flat on my face. It doesn’t make sense. On December 2, when I step back in the cage it will have been 18 months since I fought for Bellator. Do you know everything I had to overcome and conquer just to make that way to the cage? Nothing and nobody will deny me that night.”
AJ would like to thank all of his sponsors: Remedy Pest Control, Abundant Life Chiropractic, Midwest Krav Maga, HeadNod Squad, and Victory Performance Training.