New Marine's battle with childhood cancer prepared him for a new fight

Marine battled childhood cancer

Parris Island, S.C. — Michael Campofiori recently went through one of this country's great rights of passage: Marine boot camp at Parris Island. The final test is called the crucible and includes 54 hours on very little food or sleep, ending with a nine mile hike carrying a 60 pound pack.

"The hike back is really where it hit me. I did want to quit, to be honest," he said.

But he didn't, and his drill instructor Staff Sgt. Roy Covington presented him the emblem of the Marine Corps.  

"I told him that this was the second hardest thing that he's done his entire life," Covington said.

Campofiori was diagnosed with leukemia at 11 and put through five years of chemotherapy.

"They gave me, like, a 40 percent chance of survival," he said. "They actually described my bones as like swiss cheese. I could easily break a bone."

His parents, Maria and Robert, were powerless.

"That's all we could do was watch. Just be there for him," Maria Campofiori said.

Michael Campofiori has been cancer free for nine years. But it was a shock when he told his parents he wanted to go into the military.

"I wasn't happy with it. We fought so hard, the battle, and won, and how he wanted to fight a new battle," Maria Campofiori said. "He was determined. He really was."

When her son got accepted, Maria Campofiori said he was "ecstatic." But that call took an emotional toll.

"Soon as the phone call ended I cried because I can't bear to lose him again. I can't," she said.

Parris Island is a shock to every recruit and Michael said he doubted himself. So he told his drill instructor about his battle against cancer.

"When he told me initially I was shocked," Covington said. "Just the mental and moral courage that it takes to be a cancer survivor and then still decide that he wants to serve in a branch such as the Marine Corps."

Michael Campofiori is now a private in the United States Marine Corps, and one of 20,000 who make it through Parris Island every year. It's a special moment for every family, but especially for the Campofiori's.

  • David Martin

    David Martin is CBS News' National Security Correspondent.