Ernie Dixon

What makes it better is
that he is healthier and
doing well, which wasn't
the case in 2011 when Dixon was
diagnosed with cancer. When he left,
his responsibilities were distributed
among his co-workers and Dixon
focused on his health. After two
years of battling head and neck
cancer of the soft palate, Dixon
returned to ACC-APG in February.
"I'm happy to be back," said
Dixon. "I feel great and I'm truly
blessed to have a job doing what I
The Army veteran recalled the day
he was informed of his diagnosis.
"I was at work when I received
the phone call from my doctor and
he told me that I had an extremely
rare cancer. Less than 400 cases of
it had been reported across the U.S.
and Europe in the last 30 years," he
said. "Nothing could have prepared
me for that phone call. I felt like I
was just issued a death sentence. I
was perplexed as to the cause since
I had never been a smoker, dipped
or chewed tobacco products. I was
devastated and had no idea what I
was facing."
Dixon first discovered the cancer
himself when he noticed a lesion in
his mouth. Not certain what it was,
Dixon went for medical testing and
the initial tests were negative. With
follow-up analysis it was clear that
he had a cancerous tumor within the
fleshy soft palate in the top of his
"My surgery to remove the
tumor was scheduled for May 2011,"
said Dixon. "While I waited for my
surgery date, the tumor grew and
it became difficult to breathe, talk
or eat. The tumor felt like
the consistency of spaghetti
in my mouth and it would
fall back into my airway
making it impossible to sleep.
Concerned, my wife notified
the doctor and the surgery was
completed a month early."
With the baseball-sized tumor
removed, Dixon began radiation and
chemotherapy treatments at the
University of North Carolina Chapel
Hill's Cancer Center.
"The treatments were difficult,"
recalled the father of five. "I couldn't
talk very well due to the atrophy and
burning from the radiation."
Dixon's radiation treatments
ended in July 2011 and were
followed by chemotherapy in
October. He also had to endure a
feeding tube from April 2011 until
December 2012. In the process
he lost a significant amount of
weight, starting at 240 pounds and
leveling off at 180 pounds when the
treatment was over.
Dixon said the radiation and
chemo caused immune system
suppression to the point that his
red and white blood cell counts
were extremely impaired, making
his ability to fight infections a
challenge. Through numerous blood
transfusions, multiple emergency
room visits and a few trips to the
intensive care unit due to infections,
Dixon held on.
On the path to recovery, Dixon
had some setbacks. "I was prescribed
some powerful medication to help
me through the pain," he pointed
out. "As I recovered, I had to wean
myself from the narcotics to detoxify
my body. It was difficult and now I
have a new appreciation for people
with drug addictions. I suffered
withdrawal symptoms such as
cramps, sweats and delirium tremens
for more than seven months and was
just extremely uncomfortable."
During an emergency room visit,
doctors misdiagnosed a problem
with his appendix. Two days after
the visit, the appendix ruptured,
which required emergency surgery
and a nine-day hospital stay.
Dixon acknowledges "the
perfection of God's timing. If this
had happened when my immune
system was so suppressed, we would
not be having this discussion right
Throughout his entire treatment,
Dixon believed that the support
of his family, friends, faith and coworkers
was instrumental to his
recovery. When he left his duties
with the RTP Division, he initially
took a medical leave of absence
which exhausted all of his sick and
annual leave. Dixon was approved
for the Voluntary Leave Transfer
Program, which gave government
employees the ability to donate leave
to support his medical emergency.
After approximately six months on
medical leave, Dixon resigned his
"I hated leaving my job but felt
truly blessed by the donations of
leave," Dixon recalled. "My utmost
concern was taking care of my family
and the donated leave helped ease
some of this stress. I personally sent
thank you email messages to each of
the donors to express my gratitude for
their generosity."
Dixon is currently in remission and
in December, he was given clearance
to return to work.
"I wanted to return to work and
was grateful for my chance to contribute.
I applied for a procurement
analyst position with ACC-APG and I
feel fortunate to be back. I wanted so
much to return to the RTP Division
that I would have accepted a position
sweeping floors," Dixon concluded.

Page last updated Wed April 3rd, 2013 at 00:00