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Airman wins the war on cancer

  • Published
  • By Major Denise Kerr
  • 445th Airlift Wing Public Affairs
A passenger services superintendent assigned to the 87th Aerial Port Squadron here celebrated a milestone Aug. 1 that he didn't expect. He is cancer free.

"When the lab tech turns around and says, 'Your doctor will get back to you,' that means you've got something," said Senior Master Sgt. John Westermeyer. "Before my last visit, I had immediately scheduled surgery before my doctor called."

Westermeyer has battled thyroid and lymph node cancer for the past six years. Today, he is a walking testament to perseverance and courage.

"I found out that I had a lump in my throat in May 2007," he said. "I got a referral for a head and neck specialist. They did an ultrasound and found something. It was determined that I had papillary thyroid cancer; I was told that was the best one you can get."

The cancer was not supposed to spread, but it did. After his doctor removed his thyroid, he had check-ups every six months. In 2010, he found out that the cancer had metastasized into his lymph nodes.

"I had major surgery where they skinned me from ear to ear to take out 100 lymph nodes. It took six hours. I had 26 staples sutured on me and spent six days in the hospital. I underwent radiation therapy for a week," Westermeyer said.

After a 45 minute gamma ray scan in 2011, it was determined that two additional lymph nodes needed to be eradicated. At 46-years-old, Westermeyer has had cancer surgery 10 times.

"I probably have had more than $100,000 worth of surgeries and paid less than $56 because of my insurance," he said.

Moving forward with less fear and more optimism in life, Westermeyer plans on applying to be a first sergeant for the 445th Civil Engineering Squadron when a slot becomes available.
"He is a very positive role model and a mentor; if you have any questions he is willing to find the answer out for you," said Tech. Sgt. Justin Delp, an 87th APS air terminal operations supervisor.

Despite his prolonged illness, the sergeant has maintained physical and spiritual fitness.

"Every other day I bike 20 miles, do yoga and run. In April, I scored a 99.8 on my physical fitness test. I go to church every Sunday. I pray every day. I would like to do my max of 33 years in the reserve," Westermeyer said.

Finally, now cancer free he hopes that it never returns.

"It makes you appreciate life a lot more; this Christmas, I plan to visit my brother in Paris."