Story by Tech. Sgt. Charles Walker
Sometimes a headache is just a headache. Other times it can be the sign of something much worse.
Just ask Air Force Maj. Shawn Boyle, an Individual Mobilization Augmentee reservist with the 436th Airlift Wing/Judge Advocate office.
Boyle, who lives outside of Pittsburgh, Pa., was experiencing what he thought were severe migraine headaches. Over time the headaches and the pain from them continued to grow worse. Boyle had been to the doctor several times and he was taking aspirin.
He went to the local doctor in October 2012, and they told him it was his sinuses. In early February of this year, Boyle was at the fitness center working out, when the pain from the headaches became unbearable. He was sent to a specialty doctor and that’s when he got the proper diagnosis…brain cancer.
Boyle was diagnosed with a slow-growing cancer in his brain. It is inoperable and the outlook for he and his family, wife Sarah, of 16 years and daughter Cathleen, who is 11, is going to be a rough and bumpy one.
“The doctors said unless you knew what you were looking for, when you hear about headaches in the front of the head you assume it is sinus,” Boyle said. “The cancer is an inoperable astrocytoma. They can’t operate, but they can try to slow its growth with radiation.”
Boyle began radiation treatment last week at the John Murtha Cancer Center at Walter Reed Army Hospital in Washington, D.C. He will undergo aggressive radiation treatment for six and a half weeks and then he will be checked again to see what his and the cancer’s reaction was to the radiation. Boyle said his doctor is telling him if the treatment goes well he can live as much as 10-to-15 years.
Boyle’s wife Sarah said it’s been a rough couple months for her and her family since getting the news in February.
“Obviously the diagnosis has been difficult,” Sarah said. “Our sister-in-law had a brain tumor and died last year, leaving behind her two daughters. So the diagnosis was not a happy thing, it felt like a blow. But the amount of care and concern we’ve received, it’s amazing. I never expected such an outpouring, I’m truly grateful.”
Sarah, who is a family therapist with Family Services of Western Pennsylvania, said the news has been especially hard on their daughter Cathleen, who is staying with Sarah’s parents while Sarah and Shawn stay at the Fisher House near Walter Reed.
“She is very stoic, it has hit her very, very hard,” Sarah said. “She tries very hard to protect her Dad and keep a stiff upper lip, but she has already broken down a few times. We got the school involved once we got the diagnosis and they are keeping tabs on her. Even though she is staying with my parents, the split has been very difficult.”
Shawn said that since his diagnosis, his other family, the Air Force, has stepped in to help him in ways he never would have imagined, namely his bosses Lt. Col. Scott Boehne, Staff Judge Advocate with the 436th AW and Carmel Feliciani, 436th AW/JA.
“My co-workers have been wonderful,” Shawn said. “Ms. Feliciani has been on the phone every day seeing if I need anything. Lt. Col. Boehne has been taking care of things as well. They’ve both been really great. I can’t say enough how everyone has been treating me. It has been wonderful.”
Boehne said that he and his office have tried to do everything they could to keep Shawn stress free as he and his family begin their battle with cancer.
“We tried to do everything we could on our end so he would not worry about his status with the Air Force,” Boehne said. “We had to learn a bit, about who are the right points of contact, but we have been working those bureaucratic hurdles. We’ve tried to shield him from stress so he could focus on treatment and recovery.”
Sarah said Thomas Krug deserves a lot of thanks for the care her husband has received so far. Krug, who is a recovery care coordinator with the Wounded Warrior Program, basically is making sure Shawn and Sarah are cared for and that their needs are met.
“He has meant everything,” Sarah said of Krug. “In many ways, he has saved our lives. I wouldn’t know where we would be without Tom and we can’t thank him enough. The Wounded Warrior Program is just wonderful. Everybody who works for them should be thanked.”
Boyle, who began his 20-year career as an enlisted soldier in the Army, before switching to Air Force and joining the JAG Corps, began his chemotherapy last Tuesday and will continue with radiation treatment for the next six weeks.
His love for his family and the Air Force he said, means the world to him.
“Sometimes an event in your life changes so much” Boyle said. “One minute your life can turn upside down. A lot of people step up and offer you so much love and so much hope, how do you say thank you? You can’t say thank you enough. My military family means so much to me. Me and my family, we’re holding up well. I’m just going to enjoy them as much as I can, for as long as I can.”