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Army Reserve Soldier wins cancer battle

By Maj. Ebony Malloy | 94th Training Division-Force Sustainment | May 2, 2018

DECATUR, Ga. — What does an Army Reserve Soldier do when his or her health and well-being are in grave jeopardy? For one particular Soldier, he would endure the toughest battle of his life.

Sgt. Antonio Wright, an Army Reserve water purification specialist and instructor assigned to the 9th/108th Quartermaster Battalion, 1st Brigade, 94th Training Division-Force Sustainment, received devastating news on his son’s fourth birthday Oct. 25, 2017. At the young age of 28, Wright was diagnosed with a rare form of cancer called nasopharyngeal cancer which in most parts of the world, including the United States, there is less than one case of nasopharyngeal cancer for every 100,000 people each year.

On the civilian side, Wright works as a mental health technician at the Lighthouse Care Center in Augusta, Ga. He shared the events that led up to the decline in his health, which caused an increased concern for his well-being.

“In the beginning, I was only having ear pains. Every doctor I went to for a couple of months thought I had an ear infection. It was not until I started experiencing double vision that I was referred to an ear, nose and throat specialist at the Augusta University Medical Center where we found out that it was cancer,” said Wright.

With cancer affecting several of Wright’s closest family members, his diagnosis created immense anxiety.

“Being told that I had a disease that claimed the life of my mother when I was 12 years old, along with my grandfather, and threatened my sister’s life twice, put me on edge,” said Wright. “I was nervous at first…even had days that I broke down and cried but somehow remained strong enough to ask my doctors what were my options.”

Initially, Wright’s wife, Cymone, was with him when he received the phone call requesting that he come to the doctor’s office for his biopsy test results. Wright admitted that he did not think his biopsy results would be that serious. He did not see a need for his wife to be present for the announcement of his test results. He revealed the tragic news about his diagnosis later that evening.

“I broke everything down to her as she cried and panicked at first,” said Wright. “Slowly that night she became so much stronger and motivated me to fight and work through whatever had to be done. She became my main supporter.”

Cymone expressed her initial reaction to her husband’s cancer diagnosis and how she processed the information to begin the journey of saving Wright’s life.

“I was a ball of emotions. At first I panicked,” said Cymone. “You know, cancer is like an unspoken word. We had gone to so many appointments that resulted in… ‘You have a severe ear infection. Here’s some medication; good day.’ To hear my husband had cancer broke my heart. Then it’s like a switch hit me, and I was like, ‘Okay, get up, we have to fight!”

Soldiers from Wright’s unit also conveyed their concerns for his health in the weeks leading up to and after his cancer diagnosis. They gave Wright an abundance of inspirational support, words of encouragement, prayers, and phone calls with get well wishes.

Sgt. 1st Class Yvonne Barrett, the 9th/108th Quartermaster Battalion training and operations noncommissioned officer, described Wright’s demeanor, mobility and health issues prior to his cancer diagnosis.

“Wright was this humorous, eager, motivated, vibrant young Soldier who was willing to do whatever it took to get the mission done. He would come to my section where we shared laughs, talked about life and family,” said Barrett. “Over time, it appeared that Wright’s body movements and liveliness wilted away to the point even his physical fitness declined. It seemed like his memory was also affected where Wright became forgetful at times.”

Barrett explained that, upon learning about Wright’s diagnosis, he showed signs of confusion, yet he displayed strength that he would do whatever it takes to beat the cancer.

“I prayed for Wright in my office...praying that God would uplift him, give him the strength to endure his journey,” Barrett said. “I provided encouraging words to boost his spirits.”

Lt. Col. Mohandas Martin, 9th/108th Quartermaster Battalion commander, shared his experience of learning about Wright’s cancer diagnosis.

“Wright is an unwavering Soldier in all manners,” said Martin. “Wright’s section supervisor informed me of his cancer diagnosis. Wright and I had a face-to-face meeting where I repeatedly hoped that God would heal him soon. He put on a brave face knowing that he was going to win this battle.”

Martin explained the significance of being supportive of Soldiers in the midst of hardships.

“A leader must support their Soldiers during the good and the bad. Soldiers need to know that it's not just about the mission. It's about the Soldier as well,” said Martin. “One of the most impactful moments of Wright’s battle with cancer is that he never complained during battle assembly or unit engagements.”

After Wright told his family, friends and Soldiers about his cancer diagnosis, he decided it was time to battle his way through this life-altering journey. This included various treatments for the sake of his survival, wife, child, and loved ones.

“The treatment and side effects were like nothing I could have ever imagined,” said Wright. “Chemotherapy treatment took my body through an enormous battle.”

“As of a result of my sickness, I was unable to hold down food. The chemotherapy treatment also changed my palate where food had a metallic taste,” said Wright. “Chemo also destroyed my white blood cell count to the point where my immune system was too weak to defend itself. The radiation treatment I received directly in my face five times a week burnt my skin and dried it out, which permanently damaged my saliva glands.”

Enduring the chemotherapy process, Wright explained how the treatment affected his daily routine.

“Treatment had a dramatic impact on my everyday life…from not being able to go to work because I was struggling to stand up some days due to fatigue I would experience. But over the past few months, I have started to regain a lot of my strength and weight,” said Wright.

Cymone expressed how Wright’s chemotherapy impacted their family. She views the treatment as the most challenging part of their ordeal.

“Chemo treatments were the worst! He couldn't keep anything down after those sessions,” Cymone said. “Water was even impossible for my husband to drink. As the radiation treatments continued, his throat became inflamed, and this prevented him from swallowing.”

Having endured months of chemotherapy and radiation treatment, Wright shared his recovery experiences. One of his near-future goals is to regain his strength and enhance his level of physical fitness.

“I started my first treatment Nov. 18, 2017 and finished Feb. 14, 2018, which was an exciting day for me and my wife,” said Wright. “I’m currently in recovery which I do on my own with the help of my family and friends. I’ve been using a run app to keep track of my run distance that I complete monthly.”

Wright feels that the entire ordeal was difficult because it weighed not only on him but on those around him.

“This was more of a mental rather than physical battle for us because there were times when I know I definitely was frustrated and just wanted to let it all go,” said Wright. “My family and friends pushed me through the rough moments, and they still continue to do so.”

He shared his thoughts about additional influences that helped him persevere during his most trying times.

“Aside from all the support of the 9th/108th family and immediate family, I feel like my entire life I’ve watched my family fight through obstacles. So, giving up was never an option. Plus, my son is the reason I strive for success to show him how strong he can be,” said Wright. “I always remember my mom telling me to never give up the fight no matter what the issue is. And I remember her telling me a few weeks before her passing, ‘You can never fail if you never give up.’”

Wright explained the importance of how a Soldier's health contributes to Army Reserve mission readiness. He said that Soldiers should take the time they need to recover after an illness or injury, so they can safely return to their unit to help in carrying out the mission.

“I hope every Soldier takes into strong consideration to always get routine checkups and always take any minor illness seriously,” said Wright. “I went months thinking I only had a minor ear infection and discovered that I was suffering from a rare form of cancer that could have taken my life.”