Citizen Airman/June 2016 --
Months before Senior Master Sgt. Lee Henry boarded a plane to visit a sick Airman who had suffered a major heart attack, doctors had diagnosed him with terminal cancer.
Leaving his home on the West Coast and flying across the country to visit the Airman who was recuperating, even while he was in the fight of his life, might be considered by some to be extraordinary. But not for the people who know Henry.
His wife, Stacey, said even though she and her husband are fighting a cancer that could kill him in months, he’d never let the disease kill his spirit to serve a fellow Airman.
“He is the type of person who always puts others before himself,” she said. “And that’s why I fell in love with him.”
Resiliency = Fight
For months, Henry, who is a member of the 58th Aerial Port Squadron at Westover Air Reserve Base, Massachusetts, said he’s been praying that his cancer fight would turn in his favor. He’d fought it and won before, but the stakes have never been so high.
Henry has traveled with his wife to Westover to attend nearly every drill weekend since 2014, when he returned from the Inactive Ready Reserve after his first bout with the life-threatening disease.
“The first time I went through cancer, I leaned heavily on my faith,” said Henry. He said he’s never prayed harder than he has in the last few months. “I pray all the time that we make the right decisions.”
In early March, one of those decisions involved the type of treatment — chemotherapy or alternative medicine — to pursue. He decided on a blend of the two, hoping for the best results.
From all accounts, his prayers have been answered, and his doctors are baffled by a steep reduction in the cancer that had been wracking his body just weeks prior to starting the treatment. That dramatic change came just weeks after the March drill weekend, when the senior master sergeant said that, according to medical professionals, his days were literally numbered.
Prior to the March drill weekend, Henry said he had a straight-talk session with his doctor.
“I needed a sense of time,” he said. “The doctor said four to six months. I’m like, ‘How do you come up with a number like that?’”
Henry said his doctor recommended that he start a regimented course of chemotherapy immediately, but the senior NCO wanted to know all his options before he made such an important decision.
“I asked, ‘What happens if I fight?’ He (the doctor) said eight to 10 months.”
Traditional thinking dictated that he start the regimen right away. But he sought out a second opinion first.
“You’re going to make me sick for eight to 10 months with chemo? Where’s the quality of life versus the quantity of life?”
Henry said he focused on the question of what he wanted out of life.
And it was in plain sight.
Family = Strength
Henry said he leans more than ever on his high school sweetheart, his wife Stacey, who not only travels with him across country to every drill weekend, but also accompanies him to every doctors’ appointment.
In March, he flew from his home in Washington state to see world-renowned alternative medicine doctors in Nevada, and that was just days after flying home from Westover after a drill weekend.
“A lot of the traditional medicine doctors told us that no alternatives will work,” Henry said.
After talking to the doctors in Nevada, he and his wife decided on blending the traditional and alternative treatments together. They became experts at researching the resources available for his treatment. He said one of the best-kept secrets he learned is that service members diagnosed with a terminal disease are eligible to take out half of their Servicemember’s Group Life Insurance policy. He said the rule on usage is not limited to medical treatment, either.
“It can be used for anything,” he said.
In between drill weekends and medical visits, Henry makes sure to spend as much time as possible just being with his wife, four grown children and two granddaughters. He said lengthening and enriching that time requires a regimen of chemotherapy, among other acts in defiance of the cancer that started in his lungs and then spread to the rest of his body. He is not even a smoker, he said.
“These tumors are painless except for the tumor on my right lung,” Henry said. “We only found the cancer because of my colonoscopy test, when I turned 50, and I listened to my doctors and followed their instructions to have one performed.”
In Washington, Henry works with his doctors and undergoes chemotherapy treatment. He receives alternative treatments through the mail from the Nevada clinic, he said.
“We know people who have gone to this clinic and were successful,’” Henry said.
His wife said no course of treatment is off the table.
“They take treatments from around the world that have been successful and integrate those treatments with a traditional medicine approach,” Stacey said. “So, it’s all about making your body healthy and putting your body in a position to win the fight.”
The difference between the traditional and alterative doctors is the former focus on a large regimen of chemotherapy — to poison the cancer — and in so doing poison the patient, while the latter use a much lower dosage of chemotherapy, coupled with alternative medicines that boost the immune system, which he and his wife said they prefer.
Henry described the after-effect of chemotherapy as feeling raw, dry, turned inside out and with your stomach in knots.
“Our hope is that the combination of treatments will give me the biggest and best chance for remission,” he said. “We know that ultimate and total healing will only come from a miracle, but getting the cancer into remission would be a huge win for us as well.”
In mid-May, Stacey provided an update on Henry’s condition.
“We are being told that Lee will have another nine weeks of the chemo regimen that he is currently following,” she said. “After that, he will undergo a scan, which will confirm if the cancer is dead. This is when he will be classified as in remission. It will be at that point that we will lean heavily on the alternative treatments to keep the cancer at bay while they put him on an immune booster regimen.
“All pain that Lee had from the cancer is gone, and we have begun a walking program that will begin to get Lee back into shape physically. His goal is sometime in the next few months to take and pass the ‘fit to fight’ test at Westover. This is only possible because of the huge reduction of the tumor in his lung. He is able to take deep breaths, and the medical team is able to hear both lobes inflating.”
Stacey said her husband’s medical team fully believes Lee will be in remission at the end of the treatment cycle.
“They have laughed, cried and prayed with us,” she said. “More importantly, they have had such a positive outlook on everything we are going through. Amazingly, their attitudes match ours. We could not have asked for a better team for this battle.”