CHARLESTON, S.C. - Survival of the Fittest is a three-part series on an airman’s battle with cancer while still serving in the Air Force.
Some boys dream of becoming a policeman, a fireman, a doctor, an actor or even a star athlete. But for Michael Moyles, none of these appealed to him. Michael’s dream was two generations in the making.
His dream, to become a United States Air Force officer, came from his grandfather’s and father’s service in the Air Force as pilots. But, he would not become a pilot.
That boy became a man and at the age of 21 he commissioned in the Air Force as a communications officer in 1994.
More comfortable behind a keyboard than in a cockpit, Michael was a “geek.” He believed his passion for the Air Force and the field of communications was a perfect marriage.
He then set the lofty goal of becoming a general during his service. Five years after commissioning, earning the rank of captain and asking his girlfriend to marry him, his life seemed to be on track. But, all of it would come to a screeching halt.
In 1999, Michael, stationed at Scott Air Force Base, Ill., was playing basketball in a St. Louis, Mo., city league when he was involved in a freak accident. He and another player dove for a loose ball and collided. Both their heads hit one another’s and Michael was knocked unconscious. He was rushed to a local hospital.
The next day, Michael had a Computer Tomography or CAT scan, at the 375th Medical Group. The scan ruled out any signs of hemorrhaging or possibility of a stroke. Michael’s brain showed no damage at all from the concussion, but that was merely the good news.
The bad news: the scan revealed an unwelcomed guest, a tumor located in the right frontal lobe of his brain.
When an someone has a tumor in the right frontal lobe, they typically experience changes in behavior, permanent loss of vision, permanent loss of the ability to speak and sometimes even paralysis. But Michael showed none of these leading up to the incidental finding.
He was immediately referred to the closest hospital that could diagnose the tumor. While at Barnes-Jewish Hospital in St. Louis, Mo., Michael underwent several tests which eventually diagnosed him with astrocytoma - brain cancer.
When given this news does a person ask how long they have to live? Or does an Airman ask the question, can I still serve? Michael asked the latter of the two.
He had just been given orders to deploy, but he would not. As far as his ability to serve on active duty, well that would be left up to an Air Force medical board to decide.
Before Michael could even be analyzed by a medical board, he needed the tumor that was still growing - planting roots like a tree into his brain, removed.
Sent to Cedars Sinai Hospital in Los Angeles, Calif., a brain cancer specialty clinic, Michael would have the tumor removed.
The risks going into surgery: possible loss of vision, change in personality and several other factors to include death. But Michael took an alpha-male approach to the situation. He saw an issue and saw a way to fix it. So he went through with the surgery rather unemotionally, but his family and wife did not take it as well.
Michael had married his long-time girlfriend exactly a year to the day of his surgery. His wife was not sure if after the surgery the same man that she married would be returning.
“I felt scared – terrified even – of what our life would be like and desperately praying he would make it through,” said Angela Moyles, Michael’s wife. “I didn't care so much about his status afterwards, I just wanted him to live ... we could work together through any complications or other problems afterwards.”
In April of 2001, Michael went through seven straight hours of prying and prodding at a tumor that had made a home in his brain, but luckily the surgery proved to be successful.
Even though the tumor had been removed, there was still the question of if Michael would come out unaffected or even remotely the same man that had gone into surgery seven hours prior.
There were still a lot of questions unanswered for Angela: Would the surgery work? Would they be able to get all of the tumor? Would it come back?
“I was very worried ... seven hours of waiting is a ‘Looong’ time,” said Angela. “Your thoughts haunt you. Alternated between trying to sleep and trying not to cry, but lots of tears were shed.”
As Michael awoke and the anesthesia wore off, he saw his mother, father and wife sitting by his bedside. His first reaction was that he could see, which was a huge positive. He then started to move his fingers, his toes and arms. To his avail he had full mobility of all his limbs. He then spoke to his family and wife for the first time since his brain surgery.
“I was relieved ... lots of prayers were said thanking God,” said Angela. “He wasn't just "waking" up, but this meant he was leaving with me. I still wondered what would follow? Would he really be himself, or would he be different than the man I married?”
Michael was completely unaffected by the surgery and was cancer free … for now.
With the tumor gone, Michael went on with life as usual. He returned to service and was cleared by an Air Force medical board to continue to serve on active duty. But he would not be able to deploy … something that did not sit well with him.
Even though Michael had survived cancer, he still had to return to the hospital and receive brain scans frequently. He started out by getting a brain scan every 90 days. As time passed he would only be required to have a brain scan every six months and then only once a year.
For four years Michael would have his brain scanned and for four years nothing. He was cancer free, but like a thief in the night, cancer would strip Michael of all hope once again. On Jan. 5, 2005, doctors informed Michael was the cancer had returned.
Not only had the cancer, the unwelcomed guest, returned … it returned with a vengeance. The tumor was larger and far more progressive.
Michael said the cancer was out to kill him.
The second part of this series, Fit to Fight, will be released next week.