follicular lymphoma (FL)
In January 2020, I had returned to my home outside of Charleston, South Carolina, from a 28-day assignment to Anchorage, Alaska. Even though I had returned on December 15, I had picked up what we thought was a cold. The cold would not go away. My wife insisted that I get a chest x-ray for what we thought was pneumonia. Cancer was the last thing on my mind. I was working as an aircraft mechanic at Joint Base Charleston. I was in good physical shape, running various 5K races the past six years for various causes in the Charleston area. I thought I was in great shape for someone at 58 years old. We were looking forward to my upcoming retirement scheduled for December 2021.
The x-rays came back showing something on my lungs. Our doctor ordered a CT scan as a precaution. The CT came back showing my chest was clear, but the radiologist noted that my stomach lymph nodes were doubled in size. I had no idea that we had lymph nodes in our stomachs. A needle biopsy was ordered by my doctor. February 3, 2020, was a day that I will never forget.
That night we received the call to meet our doctor the next morning. I was diagnosed with follicular lymphoma (FL). We had never heard of this type of cancer. The fact that I had cancer was a "gut punch." We were referred to our oncologist who assured us that this was a slow-growing cancer, so we thought. Having cancer changed me. It made me realize a lot. The support I received from my co-workers, friends, and family was amazing. Fast forward to September 2020.
In September 2020, after having a great CT scan in July, I began to feel a lot of fatigue. I felt a knot on my neck about the size of a quarter. I went back to my family doctor to have this checked out. She ordered an MRI of my neck area. We got the call to see our oncologist as soon as possible. I met with my oncologist a week later. A PET scan was ordered. My wife and I were called in with the results. I had gone from stage 2 to stage 3 virtually overnight. We were told that I needed to do six months of chemotherapy. I was in shock, being told that this was a slow-growing cancer, but kind of in a strange way relieved that I would be receiving treatments. Being told that you need chemo is scary. Being told that you have cancer does play with your mind. The support I received from my wife (she is the best), our two daughters, and especially everyone at Joint Base Charleston was amazing. We could not have done it without all of the support.
The chemo was as advertised. We made it through the treatments. It was not as bad as I thought it would be. On March 29, 2021, I finished my last treatments. In May 2021, my CT scans came out great. Six months later in November, my scans showed that my lymph nodes had stabilized. I am still going every three and six months for checkups.
In November 2021, I ran/walked my first 5K in almost two years. On December 11, 2021, my 60th birthday, I retired with 41+ years combined active duty and Air Force Reserves. My story does not end there. Even though I am "retired," I was offered a job full-time substitute teaching at a local elementary school. I feel blessed to have survived this cancer, and by working with young children, I feel that this is a way to be thankful and to give back from all of the blessings that I have received. My wife and daughters being teachers suggested that I substitute teach. It is a blessing to give back. This is my story.