MCCONNELL AIR FORCE BASE, Kan. --
Two McConnell Airmen ran side-by-side through the chilly morning of their 5km race. As they approached mile two, one of the Airmen began to tire.
“Let’s push this a little bit harder this last mile, because you should feel something,” said Lt. Col. Duane Richardson, 22nd Aircraft Maintenance Squadron commander, as he encouraged his running mate and fellow squadron commander. “With the upcoming battle you’re going to want to know that you’ve got the heart to push through when it gets tough.”
With those words of encouragement, they kept a consistent pace through the finish line where their family, friends and coworkers awaited them.
Maj. Patrick Cain, 22nd Maintenance Squadron commander, took command, July 1, 2015 and was diagnosed with stage three colorectal cancer, Aug. 4, 2015.
Cain ran the race while undergoing chemotherapy and radiation treatments. As an avid long-distance runner, Cain often tested his strength and endurance. He used that same resiliency during his battle with cancer.
“Through treatment, everything was about the next race and training for it; that’s how I mentally got myself through things,” said Cain. “Like training for half marathons, when you get to that last mile and start doubting yourself, that’s when you have to buckle down.”
After discovery, Cain immediately began chemotherapy and radiation treatments. The cancer shrunk from quarter-sized to about the size of a dime.
Doctors inserted a port-a-cath into Cain’s upper chest as IV chemotherapy, but removed it a week later when it clotted Cain’s carotid artery. Cain then switched to the pill form of chemotherapy, taking nine pills a day.
“They also removed one of the chemotherapy treatments because it was causing nerve problems,” said Cain. “I experienced numbness of my feet and hands and tingling. I could potentially never walk again if we kept going with that treatment plan.”
When Cain experienced loss of feeling in his legs, which exceeded the normal side effects, the oncologist didn’t want to risk permanent nerve damage. Cain experienced other side effects as a result of the cancer treatments such as nausea, fatigue, dizziness and ‘metal mouth,’ but these interferences could not keep Cain away from work.
“The only time I missed work was the four weeks convalescent after surgery,” said Cain. “The next two weeks I was supposed to be on convalescent, but I talked the doctor into letting me do half days. On convalescent leave, I would stop in to visit and just talk to people. I felt great afterwards. It boosted my spirits just to be around the troops.”
When doctors operated and removed the cancer, Dec. 30, 2015, pathology reports determined the cancer to be stage one, but treatments continued as if still treating stage three. When Cain met with his surgeon pre-operation, the reality of his condition sunk in.
“He was brutally honest and it really hit home,” said Cain. “He told me the percentages and outcomes; some percentages did not look too good. When you’re faced with your own mortality, you begin to make different decisions. Things changed for me that day.”
Cain stressed that he learned three important lessons during his battle:
· “Slow down and appreciate the day that you have. I wake up every morning ecstatic that I woke up.”
· “The hardest lesson it taught me is real fear, pain and depression and that those things aren’t real, they’re just your reaction to a situation and you can change that if you want.”
· “When you get down to it, family and friends are what’s really important. That’s what will gets you through anything.”
On June 7, 2016, doctors officially declared Cain in remission.
“Humor is how I got through this when it’s all said and done,” said Cain. “I have a very satirical sense of humor and so does [Richardson]. We just started throwing around jokes about it and other people didn’t know how to take it. It’s just how I get though things, it doesn’t displace the reality, but you can’t take life too seriously.”
Doctors now monitor Cain with blood work every four months and a CT scan every year.
“Throughout this, Cain has been resilient, determined, positive and has had no quit,” said Richardson. “He is an epicenter of positivity; those ripples reached so many people.”
Cain hopes to use this influence to spread men’s health awareness and stress the importance of getting regular check-ups with a physician.
“Men need to knock it off and go see the doctor,” said Cain. “I’ve had an intimate relationship with cancer. If an easy procedure will not only save your life, but prevent you from going through what I went through, go do it. That’s the message I try to get out to these tough maintainers.”