I turned a corner sometime during my 10th or 11th chemotherapy session. My body and mind had remained fairly strong throughout a very tough treatment schedule, and I finally realized that I could make it because I might just have a fighting chance. In March 2011, I was diagnosed with Ewing Sarcoma, a rare cancer that typically develops in the bones of children.
In my case, though, it had taken root in the tissues in my hip, which is particularly unusual and very difficult to diagnose. Soon after receiving the news, I settled into an aggressive treatment plan. For more than a year, I underwent round after round of chemotherapy. Throughout those early months, the prognosis and the grueling chemotherapy schedule weighed heavily on me. And my condition was causing a lot of stress and sadness for my wife and daughters. I considered giving up and living the remainder of my life free of chemotherapy’s awful side effects. I even thought about ending things, on my own terms, and sparing my family years of illness and deterioration.
My Navy Wounded Warrior – Safe Harbor non-medical care manager Lt. Cmdr. Branden Marty saved my life. Lt. Cmdr. Marty tracked me down about six months after my diagnosis. He reminded me that I was still a Sailor; the Navy still cared about me. He called before and after my chemotherapy sessions, and he often visited me at home. In between swapping sea stories, he answered my questions and helped put my mind at ease. He chased down much-needed benefits for my family. His guidance and compassion encouraged me to keep fighting, reminding me that It isn’t over yet.
I have been cancer-free since last June. I am feeling better each day, rebuilding mentally and physically. My family is doing really well. I recently got the news that I wanted; I have been found fit for full duty. I can finish my 20-year Naval career.
Remaining on active-duty has been incredibly important to me for two reasons. First, I want to show my daughters that you have to fight for what you want, no matter the cost. And, second, I am not done with the Navy. I still have more to contribute, and I want to keep serving.
During my treatment, I routinely asked my doctors to write notes in my files indicating that, once I was cancer-free, there was no reason I couldn’t return to full duty. Last November, even though I didn’t feel like I was at the top of my game, I attended the Wounded Warrior Pacific Trials in Hawaii, and I earned a spot on the Warrior Games Navy-Coast Guard team. I have been fighting hard to get back to where I was.
Recently, I started mentoring another Sailor who was diagnosed with cancer, and I hope to reach out to others in the future. I have been sharing my experiences and all of the lessons I have learned. I have told my mentee what to expect, emotionally and physically, during treatment, and how to fight to remain on active-duty.
Lt. Cmdr. Marty is retiring soon, but I know we’ll stay in touch – whether he likes it or not! During some of my darkest days, he was the only person who understood what I was going through. And that made all the difference.