Army pilot battling cancer eager to return to his duties
“It was kind of an abrupt surprise, because I was having breathing problems and I was seeing a pulmonologist,” Groen said.
Turned out a tumor was pushing on his esophagus, causing swallowing and breathing problems.
He was diagnosed with T-cell lymphoblastic non-Hodgkin's lymphoma, a rare, aggressive cancer, at the age of 24.
Because the blood bank supply is low in Hawaii, he had to return to the mainland for treatment.
Groen, now 26, graduated from high school in Rochester, and his parents still live there. Because of his New Hampshire roots, his doctors suggested he receive treatment at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston.
He began treatment in 2011 at Dana-Farber and now undergoes chemotherapy there every three weeks. Because of his youth and level of fitness, doctors decided to treat him with more aggressive chemotherapy drugs normally used on teenagers.
Because his type of lymphoma grows quickly, like leukemia, it is being treated like leukemia in a regimen developed by Dana-Farber adult and pediatric leukemia specialists working together to try to improve outcomes for young adults.
“My doctor tells me it's the most complicated cancer treatment regimen in oncology,” Groen said. “They are basically tweaking it as we go.”
His treatment is to continue for at least another year.
Groen's cancer is in remission and there is an 80 percent chance of it not retuning, he said; however, in the meantime, his platoon has been deployed.
“It's bittersweet 'cause I want to be with them, and instead I'm here,” Groen said. “It's nice, I have more family time than I would in Afghanistan, but I'm not with my fellow soldiers doing my job. … I can't wait to get back in the saddle.”
Groen is currently working at the Army ROTC office at the University of New Hampshire.
“I'm actually still on active duty in the Army. I'm assigned to West Point in New York, but I work at UNH,” he said.
Groen said he is enjoying the extra time with his wife, Ainsley, and their three children, Ariel, 5, Gideon, 3, and Gabriel, 1.
Groen said he doesn't waste time feeling sorry for himself or asking why he got cancer.
“I'm young. I'm healthy. I'm going to make it,” he said. “If nothing else, it's given me a huge appreciation for family and friends and the finite time we are on earth.”
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Meghan Pierce may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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