First Posted: 6/6/2013
Graduating from the Air Force Academy as a second lieutenant is hard as it is. But try and accomplish that feat with Stage 2 of Hodgkins Lymphoma.
That’s exactly what Wyoming native Phil Patchoski did over the last four and a half years. In November of 2010, Patchoski discovered a lump under his arm. And after brushing it off for several months, he finally went to a doctor where it was later determined that the AFA junior was indeed riddled with the cancer.
And now he can call himself an Air Force Academy graduate.
“It was a long four years,” he said. “It’s been long and just being able to get through all the stuff is one of the best feelings I ever had. It’s a wonderful self-accomplishment.”
Patchoski received his second lieutenant status at the Air Force Academy’s annual commencement on May 29. It marked the culmination of a long, hard battle.
Stage 2 of the disease has a 95 percent chance of survival. So Patchoski said he wasn’t exactly worried about that. The five percent that die from the cancer typically do so years after the disease is discovered. But what he was worried about was his education.
Questions ran through the head of the 2009 Wyoming Area graduate. “Would I be able to stay? How will it affect my grades? How am I going to tell my parents? When and how would the chemo affect me?” he said.
You can imagine his anxiety.
“I knew I wasn’t going to go home without the Air Force telling me I needed to. I was going to do as much as I can.”
Patchoski had two options. One, he could head back to Northeast Pennsylvania, which was in his parents’ best interest. Or he could remain in school, and go for his chemotherapy there. The Air Force Academy offered Patchoski a semester off. When all was said and done, he decided to stay in school.
He was diagnosed in June of 2011. And Patchoski said it wasn’t until a September parents’ weekend that his parents, Caroline and Philip E. Patchoski would be able to see him since being diagnosed with the disease.
“They supported me,” he said. “I was like, ‘That’s not going to happen. You guys will see me soon.’ I told them that’s when they would see me and everything is going to be fine.”
Patchoski knows that he couldn’t have done this without the help of his peers at the Air Force Academy. ASC Major Romney Scheirer was by his side the entire way, taking him to and from chemo for an 8-month period, as was Master Sergeant Steve Morris.
But it wasn’t just those two.
Every time Patchoski returned from chemotherapy, his fellow airmen would not probe him about anything, he said. They made it a point to not draw any attention to it.
“When I was around them we just laughed and joked about it,” he said.
Patchoski will head to Vandenberg Air Force base in California, where he’ll serve as a missile officer. His original plan was to be a pilot. But he can’t until he’s officially in remission. He said his plan now is to look into becoming an Air Force Officer of Special Investigations. He called it the NCIS of the Air Force.
“I lost interest in being a pilot after my sophomore year,” he said. “I’m looking forward to this step.”
Patchoski was declared cancer-free on Feb. 17 of last year. It was two weeks after his 21st birthday. He has had three cat scans since last February that have shown nothing “remotely close” to the disease.
“Go celebrate, I thought,” he said.
The Air Force adopted a new motto in 2010 and it sure seems to fit the recent graduate: Aim high … Fly-Fight-Win.
Patchoski aimed high when making the life-altering decision to continue his education. He flew as a Falcon of the Air Force Academy. He fought a crippling disease for eight months, leaving nothing stand in his way. And now he has won.