I Was an Army Colonel for 20 Years And Prostate Cancer Was My Toughest Battle

In June 2012, I was set to deploy to Afghanistan with the U.S. Army’s 101st Airborne Division. As the commander of an Army unit, I was responsible for ensuring my soldiers were ready for deployment. I myself was prepared, as I had been for every deployment in my 20-year military career.

And then came the one thing I couldn’t prepare for: cancer.

I was 41-years old, a husband, father of three girls, and an Army officer, and now a man with stage IV prostate cancer. Prostate cancer is not only an old man’s disease and I am living proof. In the Army, we teach our soldiers to persevere, to fight to overcome even life’s toughest obstacles, and there was no question that this would be one of them.

After you’re handed a cancer diagnosis, everything moves both too quickly and not fast enough. One of the toughest parts of being diagnosed, of facing something like cancer, was telling my daughters. I wanted to be indestructible for them, and this news was proof that I was not. Though my health was my priority, as a parent I wanted to protect them from all that this news meant. Ultimately, my wife and I were up-front and honest with our daughters, and they continue to be a source of great inspiration for my wife and I during our prostate cancer fight.

To battle this disease, my 20 years of military training kicked in almost immediately. I was equipped to tackle this problem the same way I’ve tackled so many others. I sought a second opinion, did my own research on my disease, and finally looked for the most aggressive treatment options available to me.

Prior to arriving at a treatment plan, I applied the single-minded focus I developed in my career to learning all I could about the cancer I was fighting and what I could do to combat it. It was at this point that I was given the first of many decisions I would have to make in this fight: my treatment, and what I would do while I was receiving it. I could change jobs to focus solely on my health or I could continue to remain in command of my soldiers.

It was a difficult decision — nothing about having cancer has been easy — but with the support of my commanders I decided to continue doing what I love and remained in command of almost 700 soldiers while I began aggressive prostate cancer treatment.

The decision to remain at work while undergoing treatment was difficult, but to this day is one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. Remaining with my soldiers allowed me to maintain my daily routine without focusing solely on cancer, while at the same time providing another great support group to motivate me during tough times. Getting up each day to go to work was as important in my treatment as the treatments themselves.

Although we tend to focus on the physical effects of prostate cancer, oftentimes a cancer diagnosis can come accompanied by depression as well. The support of my wife and children, along with our church, our families, and my Army friends, soldiers, and peers, has inspired me to fight even on my bad days.

Cancer is a part of my life now, but I work every day to ensure that it remains only a small part of it. My aggressive treatment program has included hormone therapy, surgery, and immunotherapy, and I’ve held the disease in check for the last year. With all of the new treatments available, there is much hope for the future. Now, I do my best to provide support to other prostate cancer patients by serving as a peer counselor and working as an advocate with ZERO — The End of Prostate Cancer. I enjoy sharing my story, and in turn, I learn just as much from other patients as I hope they are learning from me.

Prostate cancer is the second leading cause of cancer death in men and it will affect one in seven American men in his lifetime. A cancer diagnosis can alter your life, but you can still be in the driver’s seat.

Men: If you’re at risk, get tested. Take control of your health for your sons, daughters and most of all, for yourself.

What stereotypes have you or a loved one experienced during their prostate cancer fight? Share in the comments below or sign up here.

Photo courtesy of ZERO.