Air Force Reservist fights against cancer with support from Arkansas unit

  • Published
  • By By Maj. Ashley Walker
  • 913th Airlift Group

In Aug. 2012, Senior Airman John May joined the Air Force Reserve at Little Rock Air Force Base as a Traditional Reservist working at first with the maintenance squadron and then with the 96th Aerial Port Squadron. He was training for his first deployment with the unit when he was diagnosed with a rare cancer called alveolar rhabdomyosarcoma in April 2018.

May was devastated, not just because of the diagnosis, but because he was not able to deploy with his fellow Airmen. May’s first surgery required removal of a tumor from his eye area and it was followed up by radiation and chemotherapy.  He was very fortunate to not lose his eyesight.

“February of 2018 is when my symptoms of cancer first appeared, which I thought was a severe sinus infection,” said John May. “Later on in April while getting my physical done for pre-deployment, tumor the size of a baseball was discovered. This prompted the doctors to perform a 10 hour surgery to remove the tumor leaving me with several areas of titanium plating and mesh to replace the areas of eroded bone.”

Since the initial diagnosis he has received the "all clear" from cancer twice, but it reemerged three times since then.  He must now fight this battle once again.

“A year later after undergoing chemo and radiation it was found that the cancer had metastasized and spread to distant parts of my body. Doctors are now working to aggressively treat the cancer.”

This surgery and subsequent treatment left him with visible scars, but did not alter his commitment to the Air Force and his fellow Airmen.  

“I, along with his fellow Airmen, couldn’t ask for a better Wingman,” said Master Sgt. Debra Gingrich, Development and Training Flight program manager.  “I saw how devastated he was when he couldn’t deploy. He is the type of person I want to serve with.”

Due to his medical condition, May had to put aside his military service. Most reservists are part-time where they train one weekend a month, two weeks a year to maintain deployment readiness. The part-time military status result in different medical coverage than the full coverage that active duty receives.

“As a unit, we donate to charities each year to give back to the communities that support us,” said Master Sgt. Gingrich. “We’ve supported John May throughout his battle with cancer. This year we decided to help John May as our official unit fundraiser event.”

The unit also hosts blood drives throughout the year through a partnership established by Gingrich with the Arkansas Blood institute in 2016. Each donation can save up to 3 lives -- to date that is a potential 552 lives saved by the men and women of the 913th Airlift Group.

The unit is hosting its next drive in January with donations directly benefiting John May through their Credit to Patient plan. This plan provides credits to May that offers financial assistance for services not covered by insurance.

“I am beyond thankful for my military family,” said May. “Their ongoing efforts to provide blood products, host fundraisers, and regular check-ins have played a major role in my motivation to continue the fight against cancer.  Thank you all!”