The Big Metal Tube

“I was in the tube for more than 2 hours. Going in the technicians did their preflight, got their gear all set up and the passenger (me) was ready to fly.”

Life experiences make us who we are. Blessed with a career flying Air Force aircraft (11 of them) for 30 years I was not really ready to retire but certainly did not miss the middle of the night calls from the command post, late nights, long days, extensive tdy schedule and many other minor irritants. What I did miss was the aircraft. My last aircraft was a C-17 and standing in the aircraft it looks like a big metal tube with passenger seats, oxygen equipment, loading rollers, cargo and much more. I loved to be there during preflight, loading the aircraft and taking in the hard working airmen’s efforts to get the mission done!

We joined a new mission after the USAF with becoming our effort to support our military families who so deserve our appreciation. Five years ago we took on another mission to help my wonderful military spouse defeat breast cancer and we did! Well, she is the new normal, always alert, following up with mammograms, scans, taking medications, etc. But Deb is in remission and we are truly blessed! Life continues with daily missions and life changing ones. Our next life changing mission involved more big metal tubes and new words in the dictionary.

Ever hear of myoepithelioma? Me either. This malignant tumor started in my heel. The tumor was found after I went to the big metal tube of an MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) after repeated complaints of pain in my foot to the doctor. The MRI tube looks a bit like a big donut versus a C-17 where you can stand up. The MRI barely has room for a body to slide into while laying flat and is a nightmare for some with claustrophobia. After some initial surgery to biopsy and partially remove the tumor I was scheduled for a PET CT (Positron emission tomography – computed tomography) which is another big tube! I think you may be catching onto the theme here. The PET CT verified an old shoulder injury from Air Force days and that the cancer had spread to lymph nodes in my leg. By this time we are heading off to the University of Michigan Cancer Center where a top notch team of surgeons removed the tumors and repaired my heel (a section had to removed). Three surgeon specialists and 4 hours or so in surgery I came out a clean man. Well, that was our prayer!

Six months of healing, pain medications, hobbling around with a walker at first, then crutches, then just being a gimp finally led to walking again and trying to get back into my normal condition – yep it is a new normal. The doctors were wonderful, the nurses terrific and my bride of almost 39 years was absolutely the best caregiver. But then comes the next tube. Called “surveillance” the MRI was scheduled for approximately 6 months after surgery with more to follow every 6 months for a while. I felt like I was back on active duty with a reconnaissance mission to conduct while looking for the bad guys! We prayed that the airstrikes had hit those nasty tumors in August and that we would find no cancer survivor cells.

I arrived late in the afternoon Tuesday at the U of M radiology department for what I thought would be an hour. It turns out “surveillance’ MRIs take a bit longer. I was in the tube for more than 2 hours. Going in the technicians did their preflight, got their gear all set up and the passenger (me) was ready to fly. MRIs are extremely loud and despite being a good crewmember and wearing hearing protection (ear plugs) the constant pounding that the MRI makes quickly gave me a headache. Forced to lie perfectly still is not easy and I was quickly into “my zone”. How to take my mind off the noise and discomfort of lying in an uncomfortable tube with no space (tried to fold my arms over my chest did not work as they would not fit!) was the mission of the hour. I prayed, thought about the family weekend we had just had and then jumped into missions I had flown. Life saving ones in rescue helicopters, long range ones in C-141s/C-17s, short ones training students in T-38s and many more. Time did pass and the mission over, I joined Deb for a late dinner and a well earned break.

We survived the MRI flight but felt completely exhausted. Now we wait! What are the results? Did we get the cancer bad guys in August? Doctors seemed confident but the MRI will confirm. Waiting for anything is hard but for the phone to ring and say you are in remission is a true test! We will find out sometime today (Thursday) but waiting is just hard.

PS: I just enjoyed a book on medical procedures titled “Gray Matter” by Dr. David Levy that was a great read or you might want to share with a friend who is dealing with a medical crisis.

Photo Credits: A C-17 Globemaster III takes off for Bagram Airfield, Afghanistan, July 29, 2010, from the Transit Center at Manas, Kyrgyzstan. (U.S. Air Force photo)

Photo Credit: MilitaryAvenue Author being harassed while waiting for medical tests
byColonel KonThursday, March 10, 2011Military Life:,,

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