On the surface, the mentor/mentee relationship looks like any other: An established CEO and a recent college graduate exchange a half-dozen emails each month packed with job search guidance, networking opportunities and encouragement.
But for Jordan Bauman, who graduated in December from Minnesota Duluth with a degree in biology, and Milo Polovina, who attended the same university in 1975 and 1976 and is founder of a Chicago-area pharmaceutical company, the relationship isn’t about career ambitions or even a shared alma mater. It runs deeper, their connection tied together by the smallest, most basic component of life.
Bauman was a high school junior in central Wisconsin when he was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma, a cancer of the lymph tissue. A second diagnosis — stage II — followed during the summer of 2012, when Bauman was preparing for his junior season as a defensive lineman on the Minnesota Duluth football team. He began his first cycle of chemotherapy as his teammates began their last week of fall camp.
“Day after day he stayed positive and never looked at it as, ‘Why me?’” says his brother, Matt Bauman, who is also the strength and conditioning coach at Minnesota Duluth. “He took the approach that: ‘It’s better me than somebody else because I know I can handle it. I know I’m going to get through it.’”
Treatment the second time around needed to be more aggressive. Bauman underwent four months of chemotherapy while still attending school full time. Then in February, he received a stem cell transplant. At the time, Bauman and Polovina were strangers. Months later, they learned the company Polovina founded likely played a role in Bauman’s stem cell transplant. Though they can’t know for sure, Polovina says it’s a “strong possibility” that Protide Pharmaceutical products were used to process Bauman’s cells.
Bauman’s treatment wrapped up in late March 2013. Not more than two weeks after he left the hospital, Bauman was back at football practice, eager – maybe overly so – to catch up. “We didn’t get through warm-up, some light running, before his legs gave out,” Matt Bauman remembers. “He kind of laughed it off, but it was an eye opener.”
Still, Jordan Bauman didn’t doubt he would return for his senior season in August. “(Football) was something that gave me a purpose, something to get back. I kept working and working with that date in mind.”
He beat cancer once and returned to football.
Then he did it again.
A cancer-free Bauman pulled on his uniform and joined his team in the season opener, a home game against Sioux Falls.
Polovina heard Bauman’s story and wanted to learn more. They met at a football game last fall, and due to Bauman’s interest in science and Polovina’s experience in the field, the pair stayed in touch.
“He’s been pretty quiet about his circumstances,” Polovina says. “I’ve worked with him on applying for some grants, and I’ve encouraged him to tell his story because it’s quite incredible.”
Bauman helped conduct breast cancer research in the spring in Duluth and plans to return to Wisconsin to work as a lab technician. He hopes to attend medical school in a year – perhaps, he says, to help other cancer patients as an oncologist.