Resilient Eagle: Soldier beats cancer, volunteers time during recovery process
November 27, 2013
- "Sgt. Feeny hit the ground running with his care and treatment plan and had remained willing to do whatever it took in order for him to return to the force." - Capt. Katelyn Hollywood, A Company commander, Warrior Transition Battalion
- "I would encourage every spouse to become actively involved in their Soldier's care, as they are recovering, and participate in everything they can because its indispensable to helping them recover." -- Leslie Feeny
- Blanchfield Army Community Hospital
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- Fort Campbell
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- 101st Airborne Division
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- Fort Campbell Courier
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FORT CAMPBELL, Ky. -- "I've always wanted to be a Soldier, ever since I was little," said Sgt. Grant Feeny. "There were these little plastic Army men they sold [when I was a kid] called Warheads, so I thought Soldiers were called Warheads and that's what I told my parents I wanted to be -- a Warhead."
"It wasn't until I got older I realized that was the front of a missile," said Feeny with a smile. "I remember wearing different kinds of camouflage, playing Soldier with Nerf guns -- it was destined to be."
That dream became reality December 2005 as Feeny left his hometown of Warsaw, Ind., and enlisted in the Army. Shortly after, Feeny returned home and married his hometown sweetheart Leslie. Together, they began their journey in the Army.
After assignments at Fort Sill, Okla. and Fort Carson, Colo., the couple PCS'd to Fort Campbell in 2009.
"I wanted to come to Fort Campbell so I could get an opportunity to deploy, which I did shortly after," said Feeny.
Feeny, a water treatment specialist, deployed to Afghanistan with the 101st Sustainment Brigade, 101st Airborne Division in November 2010.
While deployed, he focused on his professional development, contemplating his future in the Army.
"I placed a packet and was all set up to go Green-to-Gold in February 2012," said Feeny. "I was working hard on my PT, taking college courses while deployed."
Five days after returning from deployment, his plans would come to a halt.
"He had been back only a few days and wasn't feeling right, so he went to the Blanchfield Army Community Hospital Emergency Room and they identified it pretty quickly -- it was cancer," said Leslie.
Feeny was admitted and rushed into emergency surgery that night.
"I was diagnosed with stage-two testicular cancer," said Feeny. "Everything got put on hold after that."
"About three months after his surgery doctors checked to see if there was cancer anywhere else in his system and they did find it had spread to his abdomen and lungs," said Leslie. "So they started talking about the different options -- radiation treatment and chemotherapy. We eventually settled on chemotherapy."
Feeny began his treatment at Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville. It would take four months for him to go through three cycles of cancer treatment.
"The next two or three months were just focused on his recovery from the surgery, which was pretty extensive, with endless tests at BACH, at Vanderbilt," said Leslie "Then starting the paperwork process to get him transferred to the WTB. It was a six-month process just to get him into the unit."
Warrior Transition Battalion
The Feenys began to receive immediate assistance from the unit, well before his official arrival in the unit.
"We got connected with the WTB even before being assigned there and they helped us organize every aspect of his care, especially getting him with the right oncologist at Vanderbilt," said Leslie. "They helped [with the cost of] fuel to go back and forth to Nashville all those months, which were donated by various charity programs. Even doing home visits -- coming by to check on us and see how we were."
Warrior Transition Units provide personal support to wounded Soldiers who require at least six months of rehabilitative care and complex medical management. The specialized units have embedded processes that allow wounded Soldiers to focus on healing and transitioning, whether back to the Army or to civilian status.
"So much of a Soldier's recovery at the WTB is based on the individual Soldier," said Capt. Katelyn Hollywood, A Company commander, Warrior Transition Battalion. "There are a multitude of assets available to each Soldier, including their nurse case manager, primary care manager, their chain of command, occupational and physical therapy, social worker, chaplain, Army Wounded Warrior representative, and specialty clinics available through our Military Treatment Facility, BACH."
But all of these assets mean nothing to a Soldier who is unwilling to help him or herself or who remains disengaged with the process and the mission of a Soldier in the WTB," said Hollywood. "Sgt. Feeny hit the ground running with his care and treatment plan and had remained willing to do whatever it took in order for him to return to the force."
After three months of chemotherapy, Feeny was finally in remission.
"[My doctors] told me I would be bedridden after my treatment," said Feeny. "They said it would be six months to a year before I would get my energy back. Well, I waited like two weeks -- big mistake."
Determined to resume his pre-cancer activities, Feeny decided he was ready to partake in one of his favorite pastimes -- bicycling.
Feeny hit the trails, feeling as if he finally had a piece of his life back.
"I felt free again," said Feeny. "But, of course, I took it too hard."
"I got about three-quarters of the way down, where there are a couple of steep hills," said Feeny. "I was going [too fast] on my bike around one a corners and out of nowhere here comes a kid on a push scooter.
"His eyes got like the size of baseballs. I immediately hit my brakes, but it was too late."
Feeny was able to avoid the child, however was thrown from his bicycle in the process.
"I went flying off the hill into a tree," said Feeny. "So there I was, road rash all up and down my body, no hair, no eyebrows, cancer patient that is supposed to be recovering now I have all these open wounds. Going to my next follow-up was pretty funny."
It took almost a full year after surgery, radiation follow-ups and chemotherapy for Feeny to begin to feel like his old self again.
"This is about the time I found out about the Eagle Fitness Challenge Tour here on Fort Campbell," said Feeny.
The Fort Campbell 2013 Eagle Challenge Fitness Tour, designed to promote healthy living and lifestyles among all age categories and fitness levels, consisted of a series of 10 fitness events that took place from February through November.
"We missed the first event but immediately picked up on all the events after that," said Feeny. "We pushed ourselves physically through the adaptive reconditioning program that the WTB has for Soldiers, which really helped us prepare for the events."
Feeny's first event was the USO 10-Miler event, which was held almost one year from the start of his cancer treatments, marking a new beginning for him.
"He was all dressed in his 'Live Strong' and 'I beat Cancer' stuff," said Leslie, smiling. "He is such an inspiration."
After the 10-miler event, the Feenys decided they would participate in as many ECFT events as they could.
"We started doing them together, started volunteering together and it's been such a great thing to make up for lost time," said Leslie.
Feeny completed nine of the 10 events offered through the ECFT and Leslie took three gold medals during the tour.
The USO race played an important role in Feeny's road to recovery and it was there that the couple they began their partnership with the organization.
"The first time we came in contact with the USO was when Grant was training for the race, which USO was sponsoring," said Leslie. "It was going to be his first race since he finished his cancer treatment, and that was a big deal for him, big deal for our Family.
"I was not physically able to run the race but I thought, why not see if they need volunteers for the race and that's how I became a volunteer," said Leslie.
Having previously volunteered at the USO and needing to select a site to fulfill his recovery commitments with the WTU, Feeny decided to continue volunteering at the USO, along with Leslie.
"Together, they have been such a great team." said Kelli Pendleton, USO program manager. "They are both so positive and just really embrace what the USO mission is which is lifting the spirits of Soldiers and their Families."
The Feenys found their volunteer work to be therapeutic for themselves as well.
"Nothing takes your mind off your own problems like spending your time help out other Soldiers or trying to brighten up someone else's day," said Leslie. "Suddenly your own situation or problems are a million miles away."
As Feeny continued through his recovery process, he was always hopeful of one thing -- being able to stay in the Army.
"From being fine one day, getting ready to go Green-to-Gold, being all hyped getting ready to get on with your life and then having someone say STOP -- you have cancer," said Feeny.
"You have to start, basically trying to figure out 'what now'," said Feeny. "If I wouldn't have had the WTB ... they've helped me with everything. They know what they're doing. They know what it takes to get back on that road, but the Soldier has to be willing to get back on there."
Through it all, Feeny not only had the support of his unit, he also had the support of his wife.
"I would encourage every spouse to become actively involved in their Soldier's care, as they are recovering, and participate in everything they can because its indispensable to helping them recover," said Leslie.
One of the WTB's mission pillars is Family, which is critical to a successful recovery, according to Hollywood.
"Support from his wife, Leslie, has proven to be instrumental in [Sgt. Feeny's] healing process," said Hollywood. "The support of the Soldier's Family in the healing process is critical and provides a great deal of strength to the Soldier as well as insight to the team assisting the Soldier."
Now in remission and medically cleared for duty, Feeny and his wife prepare to move on to the next chapter of their life.
"I am PCSing to [Joint Base] Lewis-McChord," said Feeny. "I still have some [medical] issues but I don't think it will slow me down from doing my job.
"Once I get there my focus is going to be on my physical training, getting that back up, continuing with school, and hopefully working towards dropping another Green-to-Gold packet and earning my commission -- and finishing my 20 years," said Feeny.
A Soldier for life, Feeny is the epitome a WTB success story, according to Hollywood.
"From his first week in the WTB, he was motivated to heal from his illness and return to duty," said Hollywood. "There are very few Soldiers who come through the WTB that are able to return to duty so having a NCO who is such a great leader who is able to go on and shape future Soldiers under his responsibility is a huge asset to the Army."