Troops in a war zone face danger daily. But two Germany-based soldiers in
Iraq discovered a different kind of enemy on the front lines: cancer.
Staff Sgt. Michael Snyder, from Illesheim, had been in Iraq since February
when he felt a lump in one of his testicles. By August, the lump had turned
into an agonizing discomfort.
"We knew something was wrong the whole time," the 24-year-old soldier said.
Following two visits to different doctors downrange, a urologist used
ultrasound to confirm that the now hardened lump was cancerous.
Snyder's wife, Vanessa, remembers the November phone call.
"He called me and said, I'm coming home. ... I have cancer and I need to be
operated on in a certain amount of time,'" she said. "That was Friday night. He
came in Sunday morning."
Snyder's testicle was removed at Landstuhl Regional Medical Center. Since
December, the Snyders have been commuting from Illesheim to the medical center
a trip of about 170 miles one way for his chemotherapy to kill the cancer
that has now spread to his abdomen. Sometimes they make the trip in one day,
other times they stay in the Fisher House at Landstuhl.
About two weeks a month, from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday through Friday, Michael
Snyder sits hooked to an intravenous drip in the chemo room. The TV is on in
the background, playing a movie or tuned to American Forces Network. Some
patients, weak from the drugs, are asleep in their recliners.
Sitting on the other side of the room, joking with nurse Pat Benedict, is
Sgt. Michael Bernquist. Bernquist, 23, discovered a lump in one of his
testicles last June, while his Kitzingen-based unit was deployed to Iraq.
"I just happened to find it because I was doing my monthly exam," Bernquist
said. "That's one thing I realized after [getting] cancer ... that over 75
percent of people in my unit do not know what a monthly exam is. I was taught
this stuff in ninth grade, and I've done it ever since."
In Bernquist's case, an ultrasound did not indicate anything more than a
fatty cyst. But the lump was enlarging. Although he was not experiencing any
pain, by August he knew he had to do something.
"But I was on the verge of leaving [Iraq]," Bernquist said. "I was already in
Kuwait waiting for my plane ride back to Germany."
After he went on leave, he was finally able to get the help he needed and
following a second ultrasound, his fears were confirmed.
"[On] Oct. 15, I had my ultrasound at 1300. At 1600, I was already getting a
phone call from Dr. [Lt. Col. Bennett] Stackhouse here at Landstuhl," Bernquist
said. "He said, We've read your ultrasound
and you need to be here, like,
The impact of it all did not strike him until after the surgery. As he awoke,
he saw his platoon sergeant standing at his hospital bed. Then, later that
night, while talking to his mother, it sank in.
"She started crying and then it hit me," Bernquist said, "and I got
emotional, too. My chain of command has been really supportive through this;
it's weird to come from downrange and get something like [this.]"
Like Snyder, Bernquist's cancer has spread to his abdominal region and there
are traces in his lungs. According to their doctors, both soldiers' prognoses
look good, however.
Bernquist will remain on chemotherapy until the second week in February and
continues to stay upbeat, cracking jokes with nurses and fellow patients.
As far as the immediate future, both men plan to stay in the Army and hope
their stories can help make other soldiers aware.
"I knew about the exam, but I never did it," Snyder said. "It's a good thing
[to do] because I never expected that so many young people had cancer."
Sound Off...What do you think?
Join the discussion.
This article is provided courtesy
of Stars & Stripes, which got its start as
a newspaper for Union troops during the Civil War, and
has been published continuously since 1942 in Europe and
1945 in the Pacific. Stripes reporters have been
in the field with American soldiers, sailors and airmen
in World War II, Korea, the Cold War, Vietnam, the Gulf
War, Bosnia and Kosovo, and are now on assignment in the
Stars & Stripes Website
Copyright 2004 Stars and Stripes. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.