Las Vegas, NV
U.S. veterans’ sacrifices can occur on the battlefield … or much later.
Houseboys sprayed Agent Orange on weeds around the Quonset huts of Edmund Montefusco and his fellow soldiers in Korea in the early 70s, but it was decades before Edmund’s rare, slow-growing hairy cell leukemia made itself known.
Edmund served six years in Army military intelligence, including assignment to Camp Coiner in Seoul. The Veteran’s Administration recognizes an association of Agent Orange with hairy cell leukemia, but say other factors could have come into play in Edmund’s case.
“At age 63, my doctor noticed my platelets were dropping,” he said. “to 48,000 per microliter (mcl).” Normal is above 150,000. By the time he was 65, a bone marrow biopsy gave him a definitive diagnosis. Nine years later, his platelets are up to 100,000 mcl.
Edmund had chemotherapy sessions as part of a treatment process that took six months. That’s when he encountered the financial assistance arm of The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society (LLS). Working as an adjunct college instructor at the time, he had no health insurance to cover the cost of the drug cocktails he needed to fight back the cancer, but “an LLS representative came to the treatment room and I signed some papers and we proceeded,” he said. “I was grateful then and now.”
It’s why volunteering with LLS is an easy choice. Edmund, a self-professed “geek” who’s a retired college instructor and program chair with a doctorate in teaching and learning with technology (electronics, game design and academics), helps channel patient requests for information to the proper specialists, among other data duties.
Technically in remission with no signs of cancer cells in his blood today, Edmund still lives with less-than-normal platelet levels and constant fatigue as the new status quo, he said, “but I can do my LLS work from my armchair with a coffee.”
Even more than his military service, cancer changed his perspective: “I guess you could say my disease had a positive impact on me. I see a lot of things differently now. Death doesn’t scare me.”
From the vantage point of 72 years and a resume full of life, his advice is to “do what the doctors tell you to do, and keep your eyes and ears open to what other people tell you. Call The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society and see what they have to say. I wish I had known about that resource earlier.”
There’s no room for “why me” in Edmund’s life. “It’s a roll of the dice,” he said, so play the hand you’re dealt. “I used to work for Trailways and I could’ve written myself a bus ticket to Canada when I was drafted. I chose to stick with what was handed to me.
“My attitude is that each day is precious. Cherish the time given to you. That’s my message.”
Written by LLS Story Volunteer, Lori Williams