My name is Jason Boswell and I want to share my story so that it may help others who are just starting their journey that I have already traveled.
My cancer presented quite suddenly on January 1st, 2015. I awoke that morning with a headache and fever that would not go away. Over the next few weeks my symptoms would worsen to the point of incapacitation as dozens of doctor’s appointments and emergency room visits failed to diagnose my condition.
Hindsight being 20/20, my symptoms clearly pointed to a diagnosis of non-Hodgkin lymphoma (NHL). Why so many medical professionals missed this, I believe, was primarily because I was an outlier on the normal distribution curve for age. There were many more likely culprits that fit the indicators driving my doctor’s decisions. This is important to note because many of the missileers who have self-registered on the Torchlight Initiative were also outliers for age. Because of this I see education and communication as key initiatives as we move forward. Education to better understand symptoms and indicators for NHL and other cancers for the current, future, and former crew force, as well as the Air Force and Veterans Administration medical community.
Once my diagnosis was verified through a biopsy, a port was installed in my chest and we began chemotherapy, one-and-a-half years’ worth. Oncologists typically follow a playbook of sorts to treat various cancers and my case was no different. We tried CHOP first and then moved to ICE second and right down the line. Only my cancer did not respond as we had hoped, each successive option resulted in a stronger and faster response in tumors. Eventually we reached the end of the list, and my only option was a stem cell transplant.
So, on 16 July 2016 at 14:17 local Denver time, with the generous donation of stem cells from my sister, I received my new blood. This procedure is commonly called a heterologous stem cell transplant but is also known in medical terms as lethal chemotherapy with a stem cell rescue. Unfortunately, my oncologist used the latter terminology when describing the procedure to my wife, she did not receive it well… in the end though, the procedure was a success. The new blood took root in my bones, and I began the long climb out of that hole.
Recovery is slow and years later now I still feel like it’s a struggle. My sister was selected as a perfect donor for me as we matched 10 out of 10 indicators that were used as qualifiers at the time; although, I believe there are 15 that are used today. Even so, the match was not exact enough to avoid some complications. According to the National Institutes of Health, Graft-Versus-Host Disease (GVHD) can occur in 50% of patients receiving hematopoietic stem cell transplantation from a matched sibling. I ended up in the wrong 50%.
GVHD can present in some very nasty ways, mine are tolerable and managed well enough with medications. I can no longer do many things I once enjoyed and I am limited in many ways, but I also think I have gained much. When I was finally diagnosed with cancer, believe it or not, I was relieved. I had visited so many doctors and emergency rooms only to be told that I simply had a virus and should just wait it out, that made me reluctant to continue. I was glad to have that diagnosis because now it had a name and with a name, I could fight it. It gave me strength.
Similarly, as I look back today, I don’t think I would go back and make it never happen. That sounds strange to say. But, I believe I am the person I am today because of where I have been and how my past has shaped me. I have gained new perspectives through these experiences and a kind of resiliency I never had before. Arriving at this point in my journey allows me to help others, and I’m OK with that.
Jason Boswell, Lt Col USAF Retired
10th MS, Malmstrom AFB, MT – 2004 to 2007