My good friend, Tom Still, has a truly remarkable “beating all odds” story. Tom was a man who was minding his own business, concentrating on what he loved to do, and then life threw him a curve ball.
He could have sulked, given up,and went into a downward spiral, but he pulled himself up by his bootstraps and persevered. Tom had a lot of grit to him and it’s inspiring to see how he always pushed onward.
Like Tom, when I served in the military, I had my own battles I fought. There were good days and dark days, but one thing was for certain: We had to keep moving forward. The following is Tom’s story as told by his parents in my book, Change, If I Can, You Can:
“When our son Tom was in the middle of his F-16 training for the US Air Force, he had a devastating experience. He had been going through flight training for 1.5 years with his wings in T-37 and T-38 trainer aircraft. He had his glider and single engine propeller wings also. It was the fall of 2002, and in the last three months of F-16 training, he went to his flight surgeon because of a cough, some discomfort in his chest, and numbness in his right hand. He was sent for an x-ray and then immediately for a CAT scan. The results showed a large tumor the size of a grapefruit in the right side of his chest which turned out to be Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. Tom had been a good athlete and had never really been sick in his life. He was fortunate to graduate from the US Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs with academic honors and athletic distinction.
After some medical visits in Arizona where he was going through training, the Air Force agreed to let Tom come back to Seattle, his home base, for treatment. We were fortunate to get into the Seattle Cancer Care Alliance and had a wonderful doctor/oncologist, Dr. Gopal. It was determined that Tom would need eight rounds of chemo and then radiation. In February of 2003, after the sixth treatment, a PET scan showed that the cancer was gone; thus the last two treatments were not necessary. But the twenty-plus radiation treatments were still ahead of him.
During all of this, our son demonstrated a positive attitude and did things like help out with a junior high basketball team, lead a Bible study, and help out with a local Young Life group. In January 2003 when he was still going through chemotherapy, he went to Arizona to see his F-16 class graduate. After completing the radiation, he returned to Arizona to do a desk job at the base. A year later, the medical board for the Air Force decided to put Tom through a battery of tests, which showed he could physically go back to flying. He received a medical waiver to fly. Tom started his F-16 training all over again and graduated in May the following year. That was one special occasion and we all felt so blessed that God gave him this second chance. Tom is still flying that plane and loving it! He completed his third war tour, flying more than one hundred combat missions, and has received four flying medals.”