My name is Jenny Holmes. I am the wife of the late Major Mark Holmes. I so wish that Mark could be here writing his own narrative, but I feel honored to be his voice.
If we go back to the very beginning, it would be in 2018. Mark was struggling with deep fatigue. He also started to have night sweats and some weight loss. We had added a beautiful third baby to our family in December of 2017 so we thought we were both just exhausted from having three young kids and demanding jobs. On Friday, January 18, 2019 he had an appointment with a primary care physician (PCP). They drew labs and the PCP promised me she would call me over the weekend if she saw anything of concern. I worked that weekend so I didn’t see him because he was asleep when I left and already in bed when I got home. When we woke up together on Monday morning, he opened his eyes, and I knew something was wrong. The whites of his eyes were bright yellow. I immediately called the PCP and told them something was wrong. They called back within 5 minutes and told me Mark needed to come in immediately for an MRI of his abdomen. I will never forget the look on the doctor’s face when she told me Mark had a 6 x 8 inch mass on his liver. Mark needed urgent medical care. We were then sent to Denver to talk with a doctor and oncologist who specialized in liver cancer. A lymph node biopsy was done, and to everyone’s surprise, it came back as non-Hodgkins Lymphoma. His Pet scan revealed that his liver, spleen, gallbladder, and lymph system on the right side were covered in cancer.
I’ll never forget Mark’s primary oncologist telling me, “You need to give me the next couple months of your life to receive treatment so I can give you years to spend with your family.” Over the next 16 months, Mark would fight for his life like I have never seen. He went through 10 intense chemo treatments, two rounds of CAR T immunotherapy, and radiation. To see someone you love be eaten alive with cancer is excruciating. And then to know that their cancer could have been prevented or at least acknowledged is sickening.
Our children were two, six, and eight when they lost their father. When Mark died, it shattered our lives. Our dreams were crushed and our hearts broken. ’Til death do us part came too soon; we were married only for 11 years. Still, almost three years later, we cry, we miss him, and we remember the wonderful father and husband that he was. Our son, who is now 9, asked me this year if I thought Daddy liked him. When my daughter Anna was recently sick, she said, “Does that mean I get to go live with Daddy?” Cancer stole so many good years from us. Cancer made Mark not act like himself at times. The trauma that our family has had to live through is one that cannot fully be put into words. The kids and I just move forward each day remembering that Mark loved us more than anything in this world, and we want to continue to make him proud. Our kids will grow up proud of their father and the man that he was. Please, don’t forget about his children.
The last words Mark said to me (with lucidness) were “I don’t know how you do it, I am proud of you”! He was a good man who deserves to be acknowledged for sacrificing his life for his country. Mark was a wonderful husband and an amazing father. He was proud to be a member of the United States Air Force and deserves to be acknowledged for sacrificing his life for his country. Please, don’t forget about him and the many others who have been diagnosed with these illnesses. – As told by his wife, Jenny Holmes
WHY DOES MARK’S STORY MATTER?
As told by his father, Dan Holmes. I am telling Mark’s story because awareness, knowledge, truth – these are important! My hope is the AF and VA will recognize the dangers of the toxic exposures that these men and women have been, and are currently, in contact with. The number of airmen and officers within the relatively small population of missileers that become sick with various illnesses is astronomical and heartbreaking. The incidence of Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma by Malmstrom AFB missileers over the past 20 years is 100 times the rate for the general population at large. The AF owes these missileers and their families a thorough account of the effect these toxic exposures have or have had on their lives.
When the AF is able to pinpoint which toxins are causing these men and women to fall sick, they need to educate and protect their missileers. Knowledge is power. You would not expect a soldier to be sent into battle without a helmet and gun? Why send these young missileers down in the LCCs without any protective gear? I’ve heard that 90% of the air is recycled. We need to find a safer way for these men and women to control the actual ICBMs while investigating why so many missileers are falling ill with cancer, autoimmune disorders, neurological disorders, thyroid issues, etc. The working conditions are not safe, and it’s vitally important to all the officers’ health that improvements are made quickly. Not one more life should be affected by this gross neglect of their work conditions.
Many people have given their lives for their country, including my son, even if not in actual combat on the battlefield or in the air. Due to Mark not being on active duty (he served almost nine years on active duty and was an active reservist but not on “orders”) during his diagnosis, he received no benefits from the military. I am mentioning this only because Mark died for his county, but Jenny, his widow, gets no benefits that recognize his sacrifice. Their three children do not receive any help from the AF. Our family feels as if the sacrifice he made to serve his country has been forgotten. Again, awareness is incredibly important so families of loved ones can receive the support that they deserve. They deserve not to be forgotten!