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NEWS | Oct. 11, 2012

Survival of the Fittest: Fit to Fight

By Senior Airman Dennis Sloan Joint Base Charleston Public Affairs

Survival of the Fittest is a three-part series on an Airman's battle with cancer while still serving in the Air Force.

A brain cancer diagnosis can send chills through the strongest of individuals, but a second diagnosis after beating brain cancer once before could bring someone to their knees.

Michael Moyles, a boy with the dream of becoming a United States Air Force officer followed that dream and in 1994 commissioned in the Air Force.

Unfortunately, after marrying his longtime girlfriend and earning the rank of captain, Michael was diagnosed with brain cancer in 1999. He fought through the cancer and had the tumor removed from his brain in 2001. He continued with his career in the Air Force after passing a medical board. For four years he was cancer free, but the unwelcome guest would return.

On Jan. 5, 2005, Michael was informed by doctors the cancer had returned. Not only had the cancer returned, but it was much larger and more aggressive.

No time to watch and wait - the cancerous tumor was engulfing Michael's entire right frontal lobe, and doctors decided they would have to remove that part of his brain.

That spring, Michael would endure a right frontal lobectomy - the removal of the entire right frontal lobe - at Cedars Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles, Calif. This second surgery was exactly four years later to the day of his first brain surgery and once again, Michael's wife would spend their wedding anniversary trying to hold herself together while her husband was under the knife - in the fight for his life.

"This again?" asked Angela, Michael's wife. "You would think it would be easier the second time, but the mind is funny ... somehow you know what to expect, but for some reason that isn't very comforting. You know it's going to be about seven to eight hours of waiting, but you don't dare go get something to eat, drink or just walk around - you might miss something, anything! Even though you know the doctors won't possibly be out for an update during the first two to three hours, because it takes that long just to get him under anesthesia and opened up, you don't move from that chair. It's exhausting; simply exhausting."

Fortunately, the surgery was successful and Michael's entire right front lobe was removed, including the cancerous tumor that had been spreading like a wildfire.

Incredibly, Michael's vital signs were just as strong after surgery as they were before surgery. Then, in a step unprecedented at Cedars-Sinai, he was moved directly from the recovery room to a regular patient room, skipping intensive care completely. Once again he was completely unaffected by the surgery and left the hospital two days later. The doctors had never seen this kind of resiliency after brain surgery.

Michael considered the return of cancer as a wakeup call. He wasn't just going to beat cancer by sitting back and hoping it wouldn't show up again, he would have to fight. He knew his future rested solely in his hands.

He set out on a journey to get in shape - not just physically, but mentally, emotional and spiritually. He was going to leave no ground for cancer to stand on.

Not able to perform contact sports, Michael had to find something that he could safely do to prepare his body for this battle, so he decided to take up running. Not known for running, and actually not a fan of it at all, Michael set out by running 90 feet one day, then a lap around the track, then a mile and eventually more than 10 miles a day.

"Basketball was always a hobby, something fun to do and a way to stay in shape," said Angela. "His new fitness regimen was on a different scale ... nothing you would ever dream possible from a two-time brain cancer survivor."

Since the cancer had returned a second time, doctors at Cedars Sinai Medical Center made the decision to start chemo to prevent a third sighting. Michael underwent 12 rounds of chemotherapy and, after passing another medical review board, was still be able to serve in the Air Force.

Six months after his second brain surgery, while still going through chemotherapy, Michael ran his first marathon.

"It wasn't very fun or very fast, but I wanted to be clear that I'm not going to let cancer stop me from doing anything," said Michael.

Michael never went a day without running while going through chemotherapy.

"Michael is truly a man of God," said Angela. "God made him extremely special. There aren't many people with his drive and passion for life. When he said he was going to win this battle, he meant it and I knew it! I knew no matter how irritating his determination can be, it was a gift from God and I had to allow myself to get out of his way and let him do what he felt best to beat this ugly thing called cancer. He amazes everyone he meets, including the doctors. It's not easy being the spouse of a cancer patient. There is nothing you can do to help, but be supportive and make sure their focus stays on the right thing. Other than that you feel helpless!"

The chemotherapy took a toll on Michael. He experienced nausea, vomiting and severe fatigue. He would go through five consecutive days of chemotherapy, and then allow 23 days for his immune system to recover. Michael described it as death on two legs for a full year.

Michael kept his head up and continued to work on getting in shape - mentally, physically, emotionally and spiritually. After 12 rounds of chemotherapy within a year and with two marathons under his belt, Michael was still cancer free. He had beaten the beast again, and did it his way.

"After recovering from two surgeries and a year of chemotherapy, you could easily feel beaten down or defeated, but running marathons counters that 'defeated' feeling with total exhilaration and victory," said Michael. "I started to feel like I was really living and that the cancer wasn't going to stop me."

The emotional high of beating cancer for a second time would not last long. Shortly after completing his year of chemotherapy, during a routine checkup, Michael learned that the cancer had returned for a third time.

This was devastating news for a man who had put so much effort and energy into fighting, but he stuck to his Air Force mindset - persevere through adversity, rise above all obstacles and never give up.

Michael would have to go through 10 more months of chemotherapy to try and stop the growth of the tumor.

Time management was the biggest issue," said Michael. "Fighting cancer, all the treatments, training for marathons, and a full-time job is enough to exhaust anyone even if they aren't on chemotherapy. Chemo was the same ... minimal side effects until round nine and 10, then just miserable"

Having now gone through 22 rounds of chemotherapy, Michael had been through hell and back and then some. When the 10 months were up, doctors performed a brain scan to see if the cancer was responding to the chemotherapy. But, the cancer had continued progressing, even during chemotherapy. This could only lead to one thing - he would have to go through a third brain surgery, a door no man or woman would want to open even once in a lifetime.

"Michael is the strongest man I know - not just physically, but mentally and spiritually," said Angela. "Up at five in the morning, he exercises every day, studies, and by the time he leaves for work or by the time the rest of the house is awake, he's already done more than most people accomplish in a whole day.

"Cancer had no idea what it was in for when it decided to attack him," said Angela. "It will lose."

The third and final part of this series, Final Stand, will be released next week.