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SNCO overcomes ultimate tribulation

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Callie Norton
  • 62nd Airlift Wing Public Affairs

As a newly promoted master sergeant, Anthony DiMase was well prepared for the next stepping stone in his career, but he was not prepared for the life-altering news that would make this road a bit rockier.

In June of 2017, six years into his time here, DiMase was diagnosed with cancer mid-transition into his new role as the superintendent for the 62nd Airlift Wing Inspector General office.

Currently the lead production superintendent for the 62nd Maintenance Squadron, and nine-year JBLM career veteran, DiMase reflected on one of his biggest trials to date.

After experiencing some localized pain, DiMase’s wife thought he had been toughing it out for too long and encouraged him to see a doctor to find out the root of his discomfort.

“To make her happy, I called the nurse advice line and was told I need to go see a doctor within the next eight hours,” DiMase said.

The emergency room conducted bodily checks, bloodwork and imaging before sending DiMase back to the waiting room.

Finally, after what seemed like endless agony, a colonel emerged with some answers.

“Listen, I need to tell you something … it’s not going to be easy but I’m going to rip the Band-Aid off,” the colonel said. “You have cancer and we need to get you in an operating room right now.”

DiMase made a call to his wife, who abandoned her shopping cart in the middle of the grocery store, and met him at the hospital.

“When they first tell you, they obviously don’t know your staging,” DiMase said. “They just know, based off lab results, they have to get what you have out, now.”

The real frustration lied in what the doctors didn’t say. It was difficult for DiMase to wrap his head around the idea of being on an operating table within the hour, let alone the unknown extent of severity to his condition.

“There was definitely some hesitation to immediately jump into a surgery,” DiMase said. “But the doctors told me, ‘The sun never sets on cancer, it will continue to grow.’”

With fear and confusion consuming him, DiMase also thought about his sister who had leukemia twice. He felt an immediate connection to his parents and how they handled her diagnosis, and wondered how this would affect his wife and three kids.

“I was worried about it on the flip side, as a parent, what are my kids going to have to see?” DiMase questioned.

A couple weeks post-surgery, DiMase was lethargic but seemed to be recovering well when another unexpected curveball took him by surprise. Upon returning home from visiting his in-laws in Yakima, Washington, he began coughing up blood.

“The first thought through my mind at that point was it spread to my lungs,” DiMase said.

This alarming symptom led DiMase to the emergency room where he was informed he had developed a pulmonary embolism, a surgically induced blood clot that, in his case, traveled to the lungs.

“It caused two blockages where the bottom third of my lung was not getting blood,” DiMase said.

Daily stomach injections of an anticoagulant became the new normal for DiMase.

While recovery was a priority, DiMase was anxious to get back to work.

“He was relentless,” said Lt. Col. Jayvin Arbore, 4th Airlift Squadron pilot, and a friend and previous coworker of DiMase. “He took the minimal time he needed to recover and tried to come back – he was ready to jump right back into the mix. We actually had to slow him down for his own good! I could tell it was tough for him when he couldn’t be doing what he wanted to do and work to the level he wanted to.”

At the time, JBLM was revamping large scale, base-wide readiness exercises -- a difficult task for any agency to navigate.

“Despite a number of setbacks in his recovery, Tony was always by our side throughout the planning process and had a huge hand in building nearly a dozen exercises from scratch,” Arbore said. “In addition to the day-to-day inspections and administrative stuff inherent in any staff agency.”

DiMase worked from home as much as he could and credits his coworkers and leadership for being instrumental in easing the stress of his diagnosis while simultaneously starting his new job as superintendent.

In between work and recovery, DiMase was introduced to journaling. He began writing down things every day that he was thankful for.

“There’s a lot of value in taking time for yourself and your family and really focusing on what’s important in life, and making time for those things that are important to you,” DiMase said. “Seeing how the Air Force family really rallied and came together to make sure that I had what I needed so nothing else was a concern, was the biggest eye opening thing career-wise for me.”

Not only did DiMase have unconditional support from his wife, kids and extended family, but his Air Force family as well.

“Everybody talks about the Air Force being a family all the time,” DiMase said. “But when something goes wrong and you get to experience that family, it really drives home that everybody here cares about everybody else.”

DiMase is approaching the five-year mark post diagnosis and surgery in June 2022, where his monitoring program will end and he will be cleared by doctors as cancer free.