Marine Conquers Cancer, Continues Career

MCAS BEAUFORT -- MARINE CORPS AIR STATION BEAUFORT, S.C. - With the support of his family and chemotherapy treatment, Staff Sgt. Fernando Pupo fought through and survived stage 4 lymphoma.   Lymphoma is a cancer that forms in the white blood cells called lymphocytes. The cancer diminishes the immune system, growing and multiplying. It invades nearby cells and organs, choking them off from oxygen and nutrients.   By stage 4 Lymphoma, the cancer spread throughout Pupo’s body.   Once he was diagnosed with lymphoma, a lot of things changed for Pupo.   “Everything that I thought was supposed to be a certain way was now backward,” said Pupo, logistics chief for Marine Aviation Logistics Squadron 31 and native of Miami. “I lost family, but I also gained some family, there were times that I couldn’t walk and it hurt to swallow and was always in pain.”   

In January, 2011, Pupo started going through chemotherapy treatment for six months. The treatment was shortened after his peripheral nerves were damaged due to chemotherapy-induced peripheral neuropathy.   “Chemotherapy killed some of my nerves, and they were sending pain through my legs and abdomen,” said Pupo. “The thing that kept me going was seeing my family, and knowing how difficult it must have been for them to see me like that.”   Petty Officer 1st Class Francys Aguilar-Pupo, Staff Sgt. Pupo’s spouse and a hospital corpsmen for Naval Operation Support Center in Charleston, S.C., has seen Pupo go through his battle with stage 4 lymphoma since he was first diagnosed.   “It was a Sunday morning when he found out that he had cancer,” said Aguilar-Pupo. “When he told me, my initial reaction was, ‘Yeah right, go back to bed.'”   Aguilar-Pupo accompanied Pupo to every chemotherapy session, but it still took a while to sink in.   “The beginning was a little surreal and I was thinking, ‘This can’t be happening,'” said Aguilar-Pupo. “But once he started getting really sick, like losing hair and his personality changed, is when I started to accept that this was happening.”   During his treatments, Aguilar-Pupo’s family would call to make sure that everything was going well. Eventually they made it to Beaufort to visit, and after several appointments, Pupo was well enough to make a road trip to go see his in-laws with his family.   Pupo, a combat veteran, deployed to Iraq in 2007 in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom and again in 2009 to the Middle East for the set-up and commissioning of U.S. Central Command (FWD) headquarters.   Over the next five years, Pupo will be going through treatments once every three months. During this time Pupo will still be deployable to specific treatment areas such as Okinawa.   “If I were to deploy to Afghanistan, since it’s not a treatment area, I would only be permitted to be there for five months at a time,” said Pupo. “It’s a little disappointing knowing that I can only be deployed for five months, especially if I’m there with my junior Marines.”   Although Pupo has endured chemotherapy and post chemotherapy treatment, he is now being treated with acupuncture therapy to repair his nerves.   “The doctors said it would take a couple months before I start noticing any difference,” said Pupo. “However, I’ve been dealing with this for years, so I don’t know how much improvement there will be.”   Pupo is determined to see his career as a Marine through and serve his country as long as possible.   “Even if you’re diagnosed, you have to stay positive in life and look forward to those who care about you and remember that you can still make a difference,” said Pupo. “This isn’t going to stop me. I got to re-enlist, and now I run my combat fitness test and physical fitness test like everyone else.”

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