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Veteran Recounts History with Military & Lung Cancer


When Eric Wolfe, 73, of Middletown, Md., was diagnosed with stage IV lung cancer in 2015, many of his friends who live in Texas offered the same advice—“jump in your car and drive to MD Anderson Cancer Center—it’s the only place in the country that can cure you.”

Little did Wolfe know that Frederick Regional Health System (FRHS), where he would receive his cancer treatment, would become a certified member of the MD Anderson Cancer NetworkÒ, a program of MD Anderson Cancer Center, that same year.

Like many of his friends, Wolfe served in the military. While many of his peers were headed off to Vietnam in January 1965 when he was drafted, Wolfe was stationed at a biomedical maintenance school in Denver that belonged to the army. There, he learned to fix medical equipment and would later tour Europe repairing equipment. He stayed in Colorado, where he later attended college and went on to teach many of the same things he’d learned in the army.

Not long after in 1977, Wolfe got a call from the Office of the Surgeon General in Washington, D.C., asking if he’d be interested in a job at the United States Army Medical Materiel Agency. His responsibilities included buying medical equipment, supporting forces and medics, and writing rules for operation. Until his retirement in 2007, he helped to field deployable CT scanners and capabilities into the tactical environment. He went into the field—in Haiti, Korea, Somalia, Iraq, and Kuwait—to live and breathe the equipment and study the soldiers supporting it.

Flash forward to 2015. Wolfe had just returned from a Caribbean cruise with his wife. After retiring from the federal government, Wolfe worked as a contractor to various organizations. He was briefing his colleagues at work when he became winded. His wife took him to FRHS, where he had an X-ray and CT scan and was soon admitted to the hospital.

The results were grim—Wolfe was diagnosed with stage IV lung cancer. The cancer had already spread into his other organs, starting in his right lung then spreading into his liver, kidneys, and lymph nodes. Wolfe met with Dr. Patrick Mansky, who gave him a variety of treatment options, including clinical trials. To this date, various chemicals have slowed Wolfe’s cancer but not stopped it. He’s still in treatment at FRHS.

As a former smoker some 29 years ago, Wolfe wishes he would have had a lung CT on a periodic basis, starting around age 45. “Since stage IV lung cancer is usually identified or diagnosed late in the disease—almost too late to have an effective treatment or cure—I wish I would have taken action earlier.”

Wolfe says when he was drafted in the mid 60s, tuberculosis ran rampant in the army. Many people had chest X-rays to screen for the disease. But by the late 60s, the tine test became standard, and with it, tuberculosis was essentially eradicated. The military stopped deploying X-rays because of the cost, Wolfe says.

“Because of the military doing away with chest X-rays, a lot of people would spend 20-plus years in the military, retire, and go on and carry on with life,” Wolfe says. “Unfortunately, many people who used to smoke, like me, were presented with lung cancer later in life.”

“When you quit that’s good,” he adds, “but apparently it wasn’t good enough for me. The effects can still tag up with you many, many years later.”

For lung cancer patients like Wolfe, early detection, screenings, and education are key. To learn more about cancer care at Frederick Regional Health System, click here.
Categories: Cancer