Commentary by Chief Master Sgt. Brad Shirley
50th Operations Group superintendent
Tick, tick, tick, tick … the clock continues to run. A life of experiences, 17,512 days. A life of emotions, many good mixed with a few bad. Nevertheless, the past 322 days opened my eyes to what life is and how easy it is to take for granted. I share my story to raise awareness to the fact that no one is invincible and to ask everyone to listen to the messages around them. It really can save your life.
I joined the Air Force May 23, 1984. Like many young Airmen, I knew I was invincible. As my career progressed I began to understand that wasn’t the case. I may have lost a step here and there and had to deal with the normal challenges of getting “seasoned;” but when you get right down to it, I was still feeling good. After all, I worked out, rarely got sick and could still hold my own while playing sports. All systems checked out normal, or so I thought.
In early 2010 I went in for my annual physical health assessment and did the routine checks plus a couple additional test that are prescribed for seasoned men. The additional tests, normally started for men in their mid 40s, are to ensure there are no problems with the prostate. The results were normal with the exception of a slightly elevated prostate specific antigens blood test count. The doctors were not alarmed because the other tests were normal. However, to be safe they requested a retest. The results returned the same. As normally prescribed for someone with my situation, we monitored it during the next year. My levels remained the same.
Monitoring revealed no change and I was still feeling normal. This is when one of my wingmen stepped in to give me sound advice. He didn’t approach me or say a word directly to me. He simply provided the wing with his story and the experiences he had with a very serious medical issue. This individual’s selfless actions encouraged me to have a test done that I would not have volunteered for otherwise. The doctors gave me the choice, because all indications pointed to no significant issues.
The test results came back March 3, 2011 and I will never forget that moment in time.
“Chief Shirley” the doctor said with pause, “I am sorry to tell you that your biopsy came back positive. You have prostate cancer.” I was silent for what seemed an eternity when in reality it was maybe 20 seconds. The gamut of thoughts and emotions raced through my mind. The doctor was also surprised with the results and after discussing a few things scheduled a consultation for the next day. My next thought was how thankful I was for my wingman, my friend, the one who at the time did not even realize what he had done for me and my family.
So here we are 322 days later, cancer removed and recovery going well. I reflect on a journey that has delivered challenges, obstacles and emotions I never thought I would face at this point in my life. The good thing is that I didn’t have to face them alone. I had my friends and family there every step of the way; that includes my Air Force family. A positive attitude, will to overcome and an amazing support system allowed me to push through this challenge. We never realize the power of the human soul and the impacts it can have on others until we are on the receiving end of it.
Here is the message I offer each of you to take away from my story:
• First, as gifted to me from Col. Wayne Monteith, remember to take care of your health. If you don’t, you may not be around to take care of those who are important to you.
• When presented challenges in your life, lean on those around you to help you through it and take it on with an open mind and determination to succeed.
• A positive attitude can be the best medicine for overcoming challenges. It continues to be a part of my recovery.
• Believe in the wingman concept. Although it may be the catch word of the day, it’s about helping someone in need and allowing others to help you. That’s what family and friends do.
I can say without hesitation the wingman concept, also known as friendship, has incredible powers and when used positively can change a person’s life; even save it. It is a new year and that means new beginnings. What will you do this year for yourself and others? Whatever you do, keep making a difference.