By Lisa FerdinandoMarch 13, 2015
WASHINGTON (March 13, 2015) -- Retired Soldier and current Department of Defense civilian Greg Cheek says the resiliency skills he learned from the military helped him overcome the biggest challenge of his life: cancer.
Diagnosed with stage 3 cancer in his head and neck, quickly followed by surgery, Cheek, a father of two, who works in Germany for the United States European Command, said he did not have time to absorb all that was happening.
"Two weeks later, I had my first post-treatment CAT scan/body scan and they found a lymph node in my neck that came up 'hot' so it looked like the cancer might be in my lymph nodes," he said.
Resiliency was instilled in him during his years in the military, and then as a civilian, when he recently took the Master Resilience Trainer Course.
"It was amazing because I had just gone to this training and so whereas a month ago, if I got this news, who knows what would have happened," he said.
"The Master Resilience Trainer Course and a host of other life experiences were key in my successful recovery and enthusiastic outlook on life," he said.
Cheek said he was a homeless teen who camped outside the Air Force recruiting office, until the service let him enlist. He was an Airman for four years, then left the Air Force and went to college and got his Reserve Officers' Training Corps, or ROTC, commission for the Army. He retired from the Army in 2005 as a lieutenant colonel.
The very enthusiastic Cheek said he has always had a great outlook on life, but getting the diagnosis of possibly more cancer was a shock.
"That was probably the most significant event I had in my entire life, probably more so than initially being diagnosed with cancer," he said, noting that he then had the time to think about the magnitude of the situation.
"I've always been positive," he said. "I've been positive and resilient and happy and proactive and all these things - but I was a little bit stunned."
It was his medical team, he said, who told him that even though the statistics show how tough the diagnosis is and how tough the treatment is - which includes a stomach tube, radiation and chemotherapy - that it is those who have served in the military who tend to have the coping skills and resiliency needed in these health battles.
A member of the medical team said those who survive his type of diagnosis "'are those who know how to be given a plan, stick to a plan, be resilient as you go up and down during this treatment,'" Cheek said.
The surgery took out 13 lymph nodes, he said, but everything turned out okay. He credits his ability to handle the stress, having gratitude, and saving his energy as ways that helped him cope.
"All I had to worry about was basically doing what I was taught in the military - and that is being healthy, being strong and being positive," he said.
The support he received from those all around him was tremendous, Cheek said.
"I didn't have to do anything. Everybody came to see me every night. I had somebody visiting me in treatment every day," he said.
"They just said, when you feel well, Greg, you come back to work, until then, just take care of yourself, your job will be here waiting for you," he said.
Cheek, who recently finished his seventh marathon, writes about being resilient in his new book, "Three Points of Contact."
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