My name is Garlanda Shockley, Dean’s wife. I’m writing this narrative because Dean cannot write it for himself. I’m so glad to have found this missile cancer community. Dean served as a missile maintenance specialist at Malmstrom AFB from 1987-1990 and worked at many of the Malmstrom Launch Facilities. He later went on to MacDill AFB as a F-16 Avionics system specialist. After active service, Dean served in the Air National Guard. In total, he gave 10 years of his life to the USAF. In the early spring of 2022, Dean started experiencing a lot of fatigue. He said it wasn’t the normal tired feeling. We all misread his symptoms as work stress.
Into the summer of 2022, I noticed that when Dean held my hand, he would squeeze my hand tightly. In July 2022, I asked him if he realized he was gripping my hand so tight. He didn’t – but it led to a deeper discussion, and he told me that he was having to think more about what he was saying in order to get his words out. He also noticed that his right hand didn’t seem to have the strength it once had. Toward the end of July 2022, we could tell his right leg was weaker and he was walking differently; his right step lagged a bit. In August, he made an appointment with our primary care physician, and she referred him to a neurologist and requested an MRI. In early September, we got the diagnosis back of glioblastoma and were shocked. Dean had always been healthy. Our first question was, “is this connected to his service at Malmstrom?” There was no information in early 2022 about missile cancer that we could access since the Torchlight Initiative had not been started yet and the media wasn’t covering the issue. A few months later, I saw an article about missile cancer and registered Dean on the Torchlight Initiative.
I want to share his (our) story so that changes can be made to help others in the future as well as help others navigate this awful journey. I want to connect with other caregivers to offer support and knowledge I have gained as a caregiver and learning how to navigate the VA and their services. I also hope that the USAF will step up and acknowledge they have caused this terrible situation for the missile community.
Dean’s glioblastoma multiforme is in his left thalamus and is inoperable. There is never remission as it is impossible to get clear tumor margins. You can shrink the tumor, but it always comes back. Treatment options are limited.
On Sept 28, 2022, Dean had a biopsy; this caused a hemorrhagic stroke and right-side hemiparesis. He had 6 weeks of radiation and daily chemotherapy. He is now on chemo 5 days per month and wears Optune on his head. Optune creates an electrical field that helps to scramble the cancer cells and decreases the amount they divide. He takes anti-seizure medication and steroids for brain swelling. Dean is considered stable; there has not been any progression or new growth. However, each MRI brings anxiety as we know this could change at any time. Dean suffers from aphasia, memory loss, and right-side paralysis. He has been completely bedridden/wheelchair-bound since May of 2023.
WHY WE ARE TELLING OUR STORY
I want the USAF to make all the necessary changes in the field to make missile maintainers, missileers and their families safer. They deserve a safe work and living environment.
The USAF should take responsibility for not accomplishing the appropriate studies when they were presented with concerns from the missile community in 2001, 2003, and 2005.
I want the USAF to take responsibility for creating and maintaining an environmentally hazardous environment that has made our men and women sick with increased discovery of cancers; this is not just a coincidence. The USAF should acknowledge the toxins in the work environment and the fact that these toxins have caused increased numbers of cancer.
The USAF should properly clean up the work ICBM work environment and make necessary changes for the future health of maintainers and the missile community.
I want the USAF to provide care for the ICBM missileer and maintenance communities. They need to provide proper compensation to those currently battling cancer, and those who have passed away due to their workplace exposures.
I am angry that my husband is battling the most aggressive of brain cancers, one of the most aggressive of all cancers. This has taken his life, our life- even though he is currently with us. He is bedridden, wheelchair bound, hemiplegic, and struggles with loss of memory and severe aphasia. He requires 24/7 care.
Dean volunteered to serve our country and the USAF put him and others at risk by failing to identify, maintain, monitor and properly handle the toxins at their missile base. The USAF needs to take all precautions with toxins and be proactive in providing a safe environment instead of denying that there is an issue that has caused these cancers. I do not want others to go through what my husband, and others, are going through.
Missile Community: don’t be afraid to contact your military leadership up through the ranks and demand that changes are made. Be aware of the dangers and how it can cause various cancers years down the road, and how to protect yourself in the toxic environment.