When he crossed the finish line last July, Sgt. Fred Prince wasn’t just completing a 13-mile race. He was celebrating the fact that he could run, that he had enough oxygen in his body to even join in the race.
A leukemia survivor, Prince had come a long way from being an inpatient for nearly a month the previous March while receiving chemotherapy. Not only did he finish the race in 1 hour, 54 minutes, but he also picked his pace up in the last 100 yards.
“And that’s when I knew, I’m back,” said Prince, a Warrior with Bravo Company.
The flu that wasn’t
The first signs of his cancer disguised themselves as flu-like symptoms and a gradual loss of energy in the fall of 2010. An avid long-distance runner, Prince started slipping back from his usual place at the front of his unit when he was at Schofield Barracks, Hawaii. Eventually, he ran even slower, to the point he started falling behind formations.
“It was like I had to drag my legs along… it was disconcerting,” said Prince, an infantryman who joined the Army in his 30s to fight terrorism. While he got standard treatments for his flu-like symptoms, they just wouldn’t go away. The day after he set up a full physical for his persistent and worsening symptoms, Prince woke up in what he called “excruciating pain.”
“I felt like something inside was falling apart, and that was pretty scary,” he said. That pain had him going to Wahiwa General Hospital, Hawaii, (and later to Tripler Army Medical Center) where he found that what he had thought might be a bad case of pneumonia was actually acute myeloid leukemia, a cancer that starts in blood-forming tissue.
Prince said his doctors told him, “We have to hit this very hard to kill it, and we don’t know if it will kill you as well.”
Hitting it hard meant undergoing daily high-dose chemotherapy treatment for two weeks straight in inpatient status. Ninety-percent of his blood was cancerous before he started the harsh treatment.
“That was the lowest point of my life without a doubt,” he said.
Recovering through sports
Shortly after Prince transferred here at the WTB to recover, he had a bone marrow biopsy at Madigan, which came back “clean.”
He credited his faith with saving him from such a progressed stage of cancer.
Prince felt that God told him, “I have a job for you and I’m going to give you the health to do it.”
“From that point on, I’ve been working to recover,” he said. “I’ve signed up for as many adaptive sports as I could because I need to get back into shape. Chemotherapy wipes out your core muscles.”
Since Prince joined the WTB, he participated in nearly 10 adaptive sports, to include scuba, horseback riding, mountain climbing, and swimming. He said that it’s easier to be motivated to get physically fit again if he’s involved in interesting activities.
“When you have to push to do something that was (once) easier for you… it’s easier if you enjoy doing it,” Prince said.
He’s now a contester to join the Department of Defense’s Warrior Games competition in May for the archery competition, a sport he picked up as a part of the Phoenix Adaptive Sports program.
While Prince is currently in remission, he is going through the medical evaluation board to determine if he’ll stay in the Army.
“My situation is far from resolved, and it’s not set in stone that I’ll be returning to duty,” he said; he hopes to return to duty and join a Special Forces unit, but is considering civilian options as well such as underwater welding or returning to his family’s construction business.
After recovering from an illness that brought him close to dying, Prince found a lot of the barriers to participating in life were mental ones. He encourages fellow Soldiers to refocus on the abilities they do have.
“A lot of the limitations you might put on yourself may be in your mind. Get rid of the limitations and say, ‘It’s not what I can’t do; it’s what I can do’,” he said.