I am profoundly honored to have been asked to share my story about Angel Flight. As you know, Angel Flight flies passengers for Court Appointed Special Advocates, as well as flies for humanitarian and medical reasons. I am in the medical reason category.
I currently have stage four cancer. This is the fourth time in three years I have had it. I’ve been poked, prodded, jabbed, stabbed, cut, stuck, sliced, diced, crevice inspected, and felt up—not in a good way, so many times you would think that I am a living cadaver for a medical school. Actually, I joke that I now know my purpose in life: to be a walking talking petri dish for them to study.
All of this began in Fall 2016. My wife, Cindy, and I were living in Corpus Christi. I was diagnosed with germ cell cancer and given 12-18 months to live. That was before I was admitted to MD Anderson in Houston. By the end November of 2016 I had had surgery and started a regimen of 80 hours of chemotherapy—20 hours a week; two weeks off, another 20 hours a week and two weeks off. This was a 4-rotation cycle. By the 68th hour of chemo I was so sick, I didn’t think I would wake up if I went to sleep one night. Chemo is so harsh. I thought ‘not waking up is okay.’ But my wife calls me O-T-H. It stands for One Tough Hombre. I’ve been characterized a number of ways by friends and colleagues, from Invincible to Superman to the toughest SOB they’ve ever met.
One night as I was lying in the hospital dying, I looked at my wife and wondered if my wife and friends think I am the toughest person they have ever met, and I give up, what hope does that give them when they face adversity?
I made it through.
By the end of February 2017, I was told I was cancer free, which also means I was put on a schedule to have follow up PET and CT scans every three months. After one year (March 2018), the scans showed a small spot in the back of my pelvic bone. Three months later the scan showed it had expanded. A biopsy revealed I had melanoma of the bone—a fast growing, painful cancer. By Fall of 2018 the cancer had spread and Cindy and I had moved to Granbury, about 30 miles southwest of Fort Worth. In August 2018 I started immunotherapy. By February 2019, the cancer was gone. It seemed we were making countless trips to Houston.
Then, a follow-up scan a few months later showed a tumor had grown near my right kidney. Metastatic melanoma. Ugh…more trips to Houston. Where we live in Granbury, there is an airstrip in the community. Cindy contacted a pilot in the neighborhood, asking if anyone ever flies to Houston and if so, could we hitch a ride once in a while. Ha…better than that. The pilot told us about Angel Flight, and organization that flies patients to appointments. Are you kidding me!!!???? How great is that???
Cindy contacted AFSC and spoke to Chris, our very first angel. Shireen, our second angel. Amazing. The work you do to post the missions, contact us, watch the weather, interact with MD Anderson, schedule the missions, and process all the documentation is nothing short of spectacular. This is incredible. The pilots fly into our neighborhood, pick us up, fly us to Houston, and fly us back. Honestly, I feel bad. When we fly to the neighborhood, get off the plane, get in the truck, and drive home, we’re back at our house before the pilots even take off from the neighborhood to get back to their homes.
In July 2019 Angel Flight flew us to MD Anderson where I had surgery to remove the tumor and then flew us home. Angel Flight flew us for a follow-up scan a few months later. The scan showed no growth near the tumor site, but five more tumors decided to take up residence throughout my mid-section.
The treatment this time was going to be part of a research trial. It involved a new drug not yet approved by the FDA. Side effects were going to be only flu-like symptoms, which quite disappointed me. I wanted the side-effects to make me 6’2”, 225 pounds, devilishly good looking, with a full head of hair, a mesmerizing voice, wisdom of the ages but the appearance of being 20 years younger, and a bank account to rival the total worth of Microsoft. I get it…the bank account is pushing it a bit.
The treatment timeline would involve being in Houston every week for 12 weeks for 1, maybe 2, sometimes 3 days a week. I work full time. My wife works full time. From home to Houston is easily a 4 ½ to 5 hour drive—one way—on a good day. A flight is about 1 ½ to 2 hours depending on winds and air traffic control routing.
Angel Flight: I don’t remember how many times you flew me back and forth to Houston during those 12 weeks. But I probably would have gotten world-class care and treatment, if it were not for you. The treatment didn’t work so I get to participate in another research trial, which means a lot more trips to Houston. Nevertheless, because of Angel Flight, I was able to get treatment and continue to work.
I work as a professor and department head for a university. I oversee 16 faculty, 3 master’s programs, and one doctoral program. By helping me, Angel Flight reaches university faculty, hundreds and hundreds of students who are teachers, principals, superintendents. By helping me, you serve college and university directors, deans, vice-presidents, and provosts. By helping me, you touch thousands of students from K-12 through higher education. By helping me, you impact colleagues, parents, and communities beyond measure.
I really don’t know how far-reaching Angel Flight generosity extends. This I do know: I don’t even have the resources, and maybe not even the option to go to Houston for world-class medical care, without Angel Flight.
Thank you, Angels. And thank you to our Angels—Chris, Shireen, Bob, David, Del, Paul, Eric, John, Phillip, Ray, Rich, Tony, Mike, and Rob Garrett.
Angel Flight: In my book you are not only angels of flight but also the spirit of all that is impressive with humanity. Thank you.
-Randall Bowden, PhD