Family strength helps air commando fight cancer

  • Published
  • By Tech. Sgt. Kristine Dreyer
  • 353rd Special Operations Group Public Affairs
Family strength, one of the 13 critical attributes of an Air Commando, holds different purpose and meaning for many people.

For one senior NCO, family strength helped him live. After enduring two major surgeries, completing radiation treatments, and battling depression along with other side effects caused by the prescription drugs to combat his thyroid cancer, Master Sgt. Edward Timmons, 353rd Special Operations Group safety manager, knows first-hand how family strength can save your life.

"I feel lucky to be here today and that every day is a blessing," he said. "My family was with me every step of the way. That is not only my extended family, but also my special operations family."

The diagnosis came after Timmons visited the clinic for food poisoning. The doctor noticed a lump on the left side of his neck. After an ultrasound and biopsy, the doctor called him with the bad news.

"I didn't know anything about cancer at the time," he said. "I have done fundraisers to help raise money for charities, but I never actually knew anything about cancer. It was an eye opener for me."

Although Timmons said he knew life doesn't always go as planned, he did his best to stay positive.

"There are three types of thyroid cancer, and I have papillary," he said. "I was told it was treatable, can be removed with surgery, and that it has a low mortality rate."

About a month after his first appointment, Timmons went to the hospital at neighboring Camp Lester to have his tumor removed. What was supposed to be a two- to three-hour procedure turned into a six-hour surgery in which three surgeons worked to remove a baseball-sized tumor from his thyroid gland. After the surgery, Timmons opened his eyes and was greeted by his anesthesiologist and surgeon.

"I was semi-conscious, and as I looked at him I put my thumbs up... he knew what I was asking," Timmons said. However, "the surgery didn't go as planned. They were able to remove the tumor, but it had spread to my trachea."

At that point, the cancer was beyond the capabilities of the Camp Lester doctors. Timmons needed to go to Tripler Army Medical Center in Hawaii for more specialized care. But first, he needed to remember one very important thing. After such a grueling surgery in which a machine was breathing for him, Timmons forgot how to breathe on his own.

"At that moment, I had to make a choice," he said. "I could either stop breathing and give up, or I could find a reason to breathe. That's when I started thinking about my family." Timmons said he began with his 7-year-old daughter. He said her name and took a breath. He continued to name off each family member with each breath.

"They need me, I can't leave yet," he said he thought to himself. "My family needs me." Although Timmons said his optimism was wearing thin, those thoughts kept him alive. "That surgery took a lot from me," he said. "It capped the positivity I had. It took away my hope, especially when I found out I had to have another surgery."

Timmons took a-month-and-a-half to recover before his next surgery. However, the recovery time didn't bring him back the person he was before the surgery. Depression and insomnia were affecting him. In addition, Timmons said had to figure out the logistics for his next surgery. Although the Air Force paid for Timmons and his wife to travel for the surgery, he really wanted to have his entire support system there.

That's where the U.S. Special Operations Command Care Coalition, which advocates for USSOCOM wounded, ill or injured service members and their families, stepped into help.

"Upon notification of Timmons' situation, we immediately started looking for resources and ways to help ease the stress that comes with a difficult situation like this," said Michael Stewart, USSOCOM Care Coalition advocate. "We contacted the Fisher House in Hawaii and arranged support from Special Operations Command Pacific who is located in Hawaii as well. We were basically the support system who took care of the little things to help ease the burden on Timmons and his family."

To help ease the financial situation, the Care Coalition contacted different agencies such as the Air Commando Association who could provide assistance, but it was really the personal involvement the Care Coalition which helped Timmons.

"I received emails and phone calls from group and SOCPAC leadership asking what I needed," he said. "They ensured there was someone there every step of the way. From a local cell phone, to transportation, to a simple phone call or email asking how I was doing, the Care Coalition ensured my family and I had everything we needed."

At that point, Timmons was able to completely focus on fighting cancer. And, the surgery went well.

"It was best-case scenario the second time around," he said. "I had no trouble breathing and was up and running around the hospital much quicker than expected." Now, Timmons is looking forward to hitting the one-year survivor point, so he can officially be in remission. Until then, he is holding onto his positive attitude and his family strength.