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Never saw this coming
Maj. Gen. A. J. Stewart, Air Force Personnel Center Commander
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Never saw this coming: Lessons learned in trying times

Posted 3/19/2012   Updated 3/19/2012 Email story   Print story


Commentary by Maj. Gen. A. J. Stewart
Air Force Personnel Center Commander

3/19/2012 - JOINT BASE SAN ANTONIO - RANDOLPH, Texas -- I had the world by the tail: U. S. Air Force Academy graduate, Air Force pilot, six-time commander, 30-year Air Force career, and two stars; fit, healthy and strong. But subtle problems appeared out of nowhere: occasional vertigo, mild persistent headaches, cognitive challenges, having to stop during a hard run.

I went to see the flight surgeon and was immediately referred to a Neurologist. An MRI revealed a golf-ball sized tumor on the left temporal lobe of my brain and the doctor bluntly told me, "Your life will never be the same." I was literally stunned.

Swelling was critical and I was admitted for surgery five days later. The surgeon briefed me on all that could go wrong, but the young Air Force captain performed expertly. He gets my vote if I ever need another surgery.

The tumor was successfully removed down to the microscopic level. The question remained "why did I have a tumor?" The news from the lab was not good: malignant growth from stage IV of the worst form of brain cancer.

It was time to fight.

After a few weeks of recovery from surgery, I felt like a million bucks. My fitness and strength were returning and I was back to full duty and physical activity. I, also, simultaneously started a six-week, aggressive anti-cancer radiation and chemotherapy treatment plan.

The doctors told me I would be fatigued, suffer nausea and lack energy from the treatment. To counter those potential symptoms, I got back in the weight room, back on my bike, back on the running trail, back on the golf course and back to full time duty as commander of the best organization in the Air Force - Air Force Personnel Center!

The negative side effects never showed up. My fitness, strength and health remained good but it was also the hundreds of e-mails, cards, letters and prayers from my family, friends, coworkers and even strangers that helped me keep my spirit up.

Last week, I completed my last of 30 radiation and 42 chemotherapy treatments and I still feel great! The next critical step is another MRI in a few weeks to see if the cancer has returned. I pray for good results.

I never saw any of this coming.

I have learned a few lessons along the way that may help others who find they are facing tremendous challenges.

Be fit, be strong, and be healthy every day. Fitness is not about just passing the Air Force Fitness Test or deploying, it is about saving your life. A well rested, strong body and a healthy diet can help you fight off tough challenges when they come.
Life is short and precious. If there are things you want to accomplish in life, get busy now. "One day" and "someday" may never come. Push yourself to do more, now. Tomorrow is not promised, so do not waste a day.

Be positive. Brain tumors can be fatal so there's no room for defeatism; you have to fight a challenge like you intend to win. Leave negative thoughts behind and be ready to endure. Run your race like a winner. Attitude may be the number one component of success.

Be open and honest, up and down the chain. Our Air Force is a family. I have received the support of literally hundreds of kindred Airmen, with a big "A." The Air Force has proven itself a family from our senior leadership to our youngest Airmen, including civilians and supporters. If folks know your challenges, they can help. My AFPC and A1 family have been magnificent. They have opened their arms and hearts, and carried me through the tough times.

Be a bouncer. Bad things sometimes happen. It is not a question of whether you will take a fall so, get over it. The question is will you bounce back. It is really up to you. Be tough minded - you are a warrior! Think like a winner and bounce.

Love your family. My wife, Areetha, has been the "wind beneath my wings" and my rock. She has been beside me every step of this journey and she insists I keep a positive attitude. She ran the Marine Corps Marathon last fall at age 50! She is 100% positive and endures. I thank God for having her as my wingman. My Mom, sisters and extended family have also been my cheering section. They are irreplaceable and I love them dearly.

This is a tough, unexpected fight and it is not over. Our most humble "THANK YOU!" from Areetha and me. We are overwhelmed with your support, words of encouragement and prayers.

I've cleared a few hurdles but the fight is still on. I intend to win.

1/27/2016 9:51:55 AM ET
SirYou will be truly missed you were a great Commander. Thank you for seeing something in me and allowing me the opportunity to commission I hope to be half the officer you were. RIP
Capt Richard Cordova, IAB
3/24/2014 5:19:21 PM ET
Great Leader Better Human Being RIP
Joel, San Antonio Texas
3/22/2014 7:41:06 PM ET
On March 15 2014 I was a guest on KLUP's Military City USA which is an 0800 show on that San Antonio station Saturday lineup. I was on to talk about the RC-135 aircraft crash exactly 33 years earlier. In reviewing the archives of that show I came across the June 2013 interview on that show between my brother Col. Kelley Crooks and Major Gen Stewart. As I have had two bouts with cancer I was impressed by General Stewart's incredible joie de vivre in the face of this severe challenge. For those wishing to listen to the interview by all means go the KLUP Military City USA archives or straight tohttpwww.militarycityusaradio.org201306This is a nice remembrance of a rare spirit reminding us of the nature of courage.
Dr. K. A. Crooks, San Antonio Tx
3/15/2014 9:23:24 PM ET
General Stewart's commentary spoke volumes about his Christian character. I pray blessings and peace upon his wife children family and friends. Know that his real life just began in Heaven with our Triune God. Be Encouraged Family
Pastor Robert Burton, Decatur Georgia
3/14/2014 8:40:30 AM ET
God bless you my friend. See you in the clubhouse...
Tom Quelly, Orlando FL
3/12/2014 1:28:56 PM ET
Sir we met a few times on the golf course here on Randolph. You were an outstanding golfer and even better Airman. I can honestly say you lived your life as an inspiration for others. I pray for your family and friends during their time of loss. May God bless you and forever give you green fairways and straight drives.
SMSgt John Anderson, JBSA-Randolph
3/12/2014 12:47:19 PM ET
My current Wing Commander spoke of Maj Gen Stewart and his passing during our Wing Stand Up. He mentioned this article and I was truly humbled by Maj Gen Stewart's words. I worked for him at AFPC and not only was he a great Commander but an inspiration to us all through his leadership commitment to our Air Force Core Values and caring for each and every one of his Airmen. Sir you will be missed and my thoughts and prayers are with your family.
Maj J. Franklin, Afghanistan
3/11/2014 8:08:22 AM ET
I read this article after reading about your passing. I can tell you were a great resilient leader and that you will be terribly missed. My thoughts and prayers go out to your family. Thank you for your service to the Air Force.
MSgt Evita E. Yuan, Moody AFB GA
3/10/2014 11:38:58 PM ET
SirLifting you and your family in my prayers. Your story is a source of encouragement to those of us that have fought and still fighting the battle. As for me your story allows me to see how blessed I am and the road wasn't as hard as it could have been. To those that are still in the battle it gives them hope. Stay encouraged and strong...You will have a strong finish because you have a strong faith...HOOAH
Patricia Powell, Tallahasse FL
3/9/2014 10:10:42 PM ET
Sir I never met you but an truly touched by your courage and positive effect you have on people and our Air Force. It's great leaders like you that keep our Air Force strong. God Bless Otis DiCerbo
Otis DiCerbo SMSgt ret, PittsburghPA
3/9/2014 9:05:16 PM ET
You had a great impact on me as an airman. You truly understood what it meant to serve and articulated it so well to others. You will be missed sir. RIP.
Ken Raimondi, San Antonio
3/7/2014 11:04:21 AM ET
Sir thank you very much for your thoughts and encouragements. My thoughts and prayers are with you. As the son of one of your classmates from the Air Force Academy I can honestly say that the reason I decided to join the service was due to the testimonies of my father and of the men and women including you that he served with while in the Armed Forces. Any lessons you are willing to pass on should be seriously considered by my generation. Thank you again.
CDT Derek Littlejohn, US Army ROTC
6/29/2012 5:55:20 AM ET
AJ I am saying a prayer for you and your family. I know you will win this battle as you have past onesYour Class of 81 USAFA ClassmateGreg VeazeyCMSgt-Ret. USAF
Gregory R Veazey, USAG Vicenza
5/17/2012 8:46:57 AM ET
General Stewart thanks for the inspiring words sir. As a SrA I went thru a stage IV cancer scare and was once given 6-months to live. That was 15 years ago. I beat the odds because of the exact advice you have passed on and because there is a power higher than medicine. We already belong to a fraternity of Airmen I look forward to us being in the fraternity of cancer survivors. We will be fervently praying for you and your family. If I can add to your list of advice to others There is no such thing as having a bad day every day is a good day. God bless you sir
Jerome L. Vinluan Maj USAF, McGuire AFB NJ
5/16/2012 2:04:08 PM ET
What a powerful positive article I've always looked at PT tests and gearing up for them as part of being on the grindstone but this really put things in a whole different perspective for me. I pray for your complete success in recovery
Tamita Kea, VA
4/1/2012 11:35:17 AM ET
AJ I remember this young Instructor Pilot showing up at CCTS at Castle AFB just going on and on about the R-model - KC-135. You set the office on fire about the R-model and helped develop one of the best training programs for the aircraftI have ever seen Yolanda and I wish and pray for all the best in your treatments and recovery. You are an inspiration to a countless number of folks. God Bless
David Phillips, Southlake TX
3/30/2012 12:10:46 PM ET
MG Stewart I can vividly remember a young Capt Stewart leading my first aircraft tour of the KC-135 Stratotanker at Castle AFB over 20 years ago thinking this guy is the most energetic professional intelligent officer I've ever met. He's going to go far. You were the same guy when you were leading operations at McConnel AFB a few years later. Seeing your strength as you battle cancer is just the latest chapter in a well-lived life and I know it won't be your last. God bless you and your family. Fly Fight Win
Tulley Marriott, Beale AFB CA
3/30/2012 10:55:56 AM ET
SirGod Bless you and God Speed to you. Thank you for sharing this with us and many wishes for a continued successful career.
John E. Booth USAF Ret., Deerfield NY
3/30/2012 9:34:30 AM ET
Sir my prayers are with you and your family. Remember the song I sang at the 2011 African American History Luncheon-Tnydall AFB in which you were the keynote speaker...Jesus He will fix. God Bless.
CMSgt-Ret Gean Alston, Washington DC
3/30/2012 7:10:21 AM ET
Thank you Sir
Thomas E Stambaugh, Tampa Florida
3/30/2012 12:30:09 AM ET
God Speed Sir God Speed Thank you for sharing this inspiring story
3/29/2012 6:37:13 PM ET
God bless you and your family. Keep up the good fight.Rich Keenan USAFUSMC Ret
Rich Keenan, Midland MI
3/29/2012 5:23:33 PM ET
Your friends from McConnell are wishing you all the best It goes without saying you have been an inspiration and a mentor to a great many throughout your career. Praying for your speedy recovery NKAWTG
Esty Ramirez, Wichita Ks
3/29/2012 10:06:38 AM ET
Maj Gen Stewart - My thoughts and prayers are with you and Areetha. I have had both open heart surgery and cancer and I have learned that life is a breath to be fully enjoyed. I know that God is able to heal and comfort. Blessings to you and your family.
Alan Preisser USAF Ret, Hampton VA
3/29/2012 9:35:41 AM ET
Maj Gen Stewart my prayers are lifted up for you and your family for a complete recovery. You are an inspiration to all of us those in service with you and those of us in retired status. Your attitude captures that of a true service man whom were all proud to serve with you and have serve for us. May God bless you and yours.
Karen Pruitt, Virginia Beach VA
3/29/2012 8:28:27 AM ET
Sir you are an inspiration to us all.May your recovery continue to soar and please know you will be continually in my prayers. God Bless you.Sharon McDaniel12 FTWCCP
Sharon McDaniel, 12 FTW Randolph AFB
3/28/2012 7:24:56 PM ET
SirLike everyone else I wanted to say that I am glad to hear that you are doing well. Thanks for your inspirational. That is bouncing back times 1000 I myself have been in the military for 10 years and find myself trying to find that steady pace which is not easy. I have a few issues in the PT area that I am trying to bounce back on right now. Your story is a good kick in the butt to remind me that I don't really have it so bad now do I Thanks again for your candor and for your service. RespectfullySSgt Kevin Gronemeier
SSgt Kevin Gronemeier, Hurlburt Field Florida
3/28/2012 8:58:06 AM ET
Sir my prayers go out to you and your family. I pray for your continued strength. I was inspired by your story. Keep fighting. God bless.
Ison Zibowsky AF Retired, Cibolo TX
3/27/2012 12:29:03 PM ET
GOD bless you Sir My prayers are with you and your family You are truly an inspiration to all who read this. May HE continue to bless you Thank you for sharing.
Mike Turner, Ft Dix MEPS
3/27/2012 11:04:27 AM ET
Sir-You embodied all those lessons listed well before this health scare came along. I remember your positivity honesty and great humor when you served as USAFEA3D. I know I'm one of many who benefitted from your leadership and mentorship. I'm happy to hear that your recovery has been so smooth. My prayers are with you for the best results possible. Thank you for sharing your experience with us. Marston McKeon AFROTC Det 310CC
Marston McKeon, Louisiana State University
3/27/2012 9:39:05 AM ET
Sir I had surgery in Dec 2011 for stage 4 malignant glioma. I am watching the hand of GOD move every day. HE is good everyday and has not missed a day. I am post chemo- and post radiation with very few side effects. I am well supported by my wife and daughter. I am back to work half days and walk nearly everyday. God is so good to me. Be well. And be uplifted.
Andrew LaMarLtColUSAF ret, Norfolk VA
3/24/2012 11:03:49 AM ET
You and the ones you love have won.Take good care of each other.
Georgett Q. Klinedinst, Los Angeles CA
3/23/2012 3:37:37 PM ET
Sir what a awesome God we serve and having him in our life all things are possible Your inspiring story is evident of that. I will continue to keep you and your family in my prayers. Praise God for your testimony you have encouranged so many others who may have challenges that seem hard to bear. Know that the battle is not ours by the Lords
Cynthia Lee, Keesler AFB
3/23/2012 9:56:44 AM ET
Very inspiring story Thanks for reminding us to take our health seriously before we HAVE to
Kelly K, Fort Jackson SC
3/23/2012 9:27:07 AM ET
Maj Gen Stewart if it's possible my admiration for you has now doubled. I've followed your career since you were Capt Stewart at Castle AFB and used the lessons you taught me through life and a continuing 25 year flying career. Now you are teaching me the most valuable lessons of all. Fly fight WIN
Larry Speer USAF Ret., Ashburn VA
3/22/2012 10:49:18 PM ET
It must have taken as much strength to relate all that you've learned under these difficult circumstances as its taken for you to get the upper hand on this struggle. My thoughts are with you as continue the fight. Take care and let me know if an old classmate can assist you in any way. Reggie 81
Reggie Jones, Los Angeles CA
3/22/2012 9:16:26 PM ET
Hey AJ. It's your partner from RAGBRAI. You are still my hero. What a fighter. I am so proud of you for never giving up the battle.My heart and good vibes go out to you. Riding with you is still my most honored moment in sport.HUG to you and your family.Laurel
Laurel Darren, Davenport IA
3/22/2012 5:28:22 PM ET
Yours is a wonderful inspirational story. Life is short and precious. Airman USAF Medical Services
Rachel Jordan Martin-Corpuz, Austin Texas
3/22/2012 7:31:29 AM ET
What a true warrior you are. KOKO MG Stewart My prayers are with you and your family as you move forward to a successful recovery From a former AF vet.
Gregg Collum, Falls City TX
3/22/2012 12:01:11 AM ET
Sir I am truly grafetful the Lord decide ti gave another opportunity to excel. As well as another opportunity to take of others. I just wish you would had taken to peel pack the oninion to under cover my sitiuation before sending me on my way. Nonetheless I believe your personal experinces has given you this perspective. Truly knowing ever Airman big or small are vaulble members to our Team Family.
CMSgt Raymond, Altus AFB OK
3/21/2012 8:55:18 PM ET
Boss I can think of no-one more capable of shouldering a challenge like this. Your strength of body and mind inspired ALL of your recruiters during your two spectacular years in AFRS This is YOUR Battle of Little Round TopFix bayonets Be well Sir. Youre in our thoughts.
Col Jay Fitzgerald, 2 AFKeesler AFB
3/21/2012 8:24:03 PM ET
Excellent commentary I posted this to my FB page as a shining example of what living a healthy and balanced lifestyle - both physically mentally and emotionally - can achieve in terms of overcoming adversity. Semper Fi sir RGunny Goodwin
Jim Goodwin, Hampton VA
3/21/2012 5:04:55 PM ET
Maj Gen Stewartwe are so glad to hear you are in warrior mode and fighting this cancer.We had no idea you were dealing with this.Tads mom has been fighting it this year too.What a great message.I will share it with several others.If you and Areetha want to make another race track visitpls let us know.
jodi geschickter, HarrisburgNC
3/21/2012 4:41:41 PM ET
Thank you for sharing your story and being an inspiration. It is stories like this that give HOPE to other cancer Survivors. As a volunteer for the American Cancer Society I will spread your words of encouragment. Thank you Many prayers.
Cathleen Rodriguez, Sheppard AFB TX
3/21/2012 11:48:59 AM ET
Maj Gen Stewart I had the pleasure of meeting you on RAGBRAI last year As a personnel specialist it was great to have the commander of AFPC on our team Your story and message are truly inspirational and I plan relay it to all my personnelist brethren here at Rosecrans. Hope to see you out on the road again one day
Kent Harms, St Joseph MO
3/21/2012 11:18:19 AM ET
General I took your words to heart and am very inspired by your story. My family and I will continue to pray for you and your family. Our God is a God of many miracles
Ashraf Hanna, Joint Base Andrews
3/20/2012 10:44:27 PM ET
Sir You are a truly inspirational leader. I support A1 software applications and you are the first one to bring us together to let us know how important we are to the Air Force mission. God bless you and Areetha. If anyone can beat this I am convinced it is you
Beth Meurer, San Antonio Tx
3/20/2012 11:17:36 AM ET
Maj. Gen. Stewart I served under you when you was the Recruiting Service Commander. What a great time under your command and your story has great inspiration...true meaning of the human spirit. Prayers for you and for your continued recovery. Your definately an incredible leader and well respected by all. Keep pushing Sir..we are all behind you.
TSgt Philip Bathurst, Baton RougeLA
3/20/2012 10:11:55 AM ET
My very best wishes to you. Sounds remarkably like my husbands journey in 1989. He was given 2-5 years. I think it has been a tad longer. Wishing God's blessings on you and your family.
Chris Tuthill, Whitesboro OK
3/20/2012 9:10:45 AM ET
Great advice to any airman or anyone. I admire your insight as you proceed thru your treatment but please be willing to accept assistance as you need it from positive thoughts to a hand with wishes
Nancy Della Pia, Owego NY
3/20/2012 8:42:41 AM ET
Sir thank you for the inspiring words Best of luck in your recovery and God bless you and your family. You will always be a Sheepdog in my book. Shirt
Michael Lantz, Scott AFB 618 AOC
3/19/2012 6:16:45 PM ET
SirInspiring to read this.I'm finishing up a civilian residency in Oral and Maxillofacial Pathology so I can guess both what your tumor was and I understand very well what Stage IV disease in the brain means.I wish you the best and I hope a lot of people read this and take heed and take care of themselves.DEKUSAF Dental Corps
David Klingman, New York
3/19/2012 4:58:46 PM ET
Very inspirational story MG Stewart. I'm glad your initial medical intervention was successful and hope the same is true for your follow-on. Many kudos to you and also to military medicine.
Linnes Chester, Las Vegas
3/19/2012 4:42:52 PM ET
Maj Gen Stewart I pray for a full recovery and also pray for Ms. Aretha as events like this one are not easy for the family. You are a great leader and the AF needs you to be around a while longer.God SpeedMaria a former troop.
Maria E. Morales, Marion TX
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