Article and pictures by: 2Lt Leah Pierce, Reserve Public Affairs Officer
On Tuesday, March 17, 2009 the Canadian Cancer Society, North Bay unit, launched its 9th Annual Relay for Life fundraiser. Each year organizers select a survivor to act as the spokesperson to help launch the event. In keeping with this year’s theme, “Heroes”, Sergeant (Sgt) Kevin Thompson, an Aerospace Control Operator with 22 Wing/Canadian Forces Base (CFB) North Bay was chosen to lead the charge to help “Celebrate, Remember and Fight Back” .
Stripped of fat and muscle, a once active and notoriously athletic hockey player and referee, Sgt Thompson inspired the men and women at 22 Wing/CFB North Bay as they watched, helpless, while he battled an unseen foe. Colonel Martin Galvin, Wing Commander, explained to the crowd at Northgate Shopping Centre “Sgt Kevin Thompson represents the best of everything we value: dedication, honour, selflessness, and the will to overcome all adversity.” As the event will once again be held at 22 Wing/CFB North Bay, Colonel Galvin also took the opportunity to welcome the local community back to the soccer field location, featuring a brand new world class running track. Major James Peck, Commanding Officer of 51 Aerospace Control & Warning (Operational Training) Squadron, introduced Sgt Thompson to those present and mentioned how just over a year ago the 22 Wing Old Timers Hockey Team visited him in the hospital and when they left they wondered if they were ever going to see him again. Major Peck went on to explained, “I can vividly recall the anger I felt towards his enemy, but more powerful still, I recall the hope, desire and commitment I could hear in Kevin’s voice.”
This introduction moved Sgt Thompson, who took time to compose himself before addresses those assembled at the launch. With a voice filled with emotion he described his cancer, “Two years ago I woke up paralyzed from the chest down. Later I found out that I had a tumour, like the one that Terry Fox had, but this was pressing on my spine. When the doctors told me I had osteosarcoma, right away I thought ‘Am I going to live?’”
Sgt Thompson became a hero in the eyes of members of 22 Wing by his sheer will to live and his unending advocacy for the best medical care. Sgt Thompson stated during the launch that, “I was the most sick when I was the most depressed.” He revealed that it was important to surround himself with family and friends when he was battling cancer. His family includes: relatives, the military, the hockey community and medical staff in Toronto. While in the hospital he watched his roommate give in to cancer and loose his fight. He vowed never to give up.
Each of the four times he required surgery to repair the effects of removing the tumour from his spine Sgt Thompson had to learn to walk again. “Every time I went under the knife the clock was reset and I had to learn to be able to walk again.” He reflects on his life before cancer and how he would complain in the morning when getting out of bed to go work. Now he fights each day to get up and get ready for work, a fight he is only too happy to be in, because it means he is still alive.
Part of his positive attitude was based on setting realistic goals for himself; the most important one was wearing the uniform and the flag once again. “I wasn’t just satisfied to be alive. I took baby steps to get back to a positive attitude, a cause … and that was to be back in uniform.”
Once back in North Bay, Sgt Thompson started the process to reintegrate into the life he had before being diagnosed with cancer. At work, Sgt Thompson became the 21 Aerospace Control & Warning Squadron Ground Training NCM. His primary responsibility is to ensure that approximately 200 operational crew members including active and those persons qualified for operations maintain their qualifications. He also coordinates with the Readiness Training Flight to schedule pre-deployment training and ensures that those members who are operational also have their Annual Personnel Readiness Verification (APRV) screenings up-to-date.
Doctors have warned Sgt Thompson, an avid referee, against skating for fear that he could damage his neck and become paralyzed. Now he coaches the 22 Wing Old Timers Hockey team. He sets up and runs practices, e-mails the drills to the players and is a master at Power Point presentations.
Sgt Thompson accepted the invitation to be the survivor-spokesperson at this year’s Relay for Life launch to send out the message that each person diagnosed with cancer goes through similar experiences. “The after affects are purple”, he explains, using a purely military analogy. “It doesn’t matter what kind of cancer you had everyone goes through the fear of dying and needs support from family and friends.”