Tom Hamilton taken aloft by flying angels

It was early in the morning when Tom Hamilton left his bed and fell against the bedpost and then somersaulted into the metal base of the treadmill that sat across the room. He must have hit that metal with a powerful force, because his eyes resembled a big ol' dark-eyed raccoon. Only with Tom, the varying shades of blue, along with tinges of mustard yellow, extended into his forehead and down his face. Swelling changed his countenance and enhanced this color, so to Dr. Rick Hughes he hurried.

The bedpost and the treadmill explanation made sense, so of course the doctor thought Tom had just broken all those big and little bones that make up facial structure. However, in order to be safe, he sent him to a specialized "ENT person" in Columbia.

That eye, ear, nose and throat doctor heard what happened and began an examination. Thought it over and looked again, and then one more time, just to be safe. He discovered something that had nothing to do with the bedpost or the treadmill but most certainly should never have been there. He probed and appeared profoundly concerned and then said in an honest manner: "Tom, I found something that should not be present. It is a small mass, so for that, we should be thankful. But I think you should undergo a PT scan and have, of course, a biopsy. A mass, however small, should most certainly be investigated, and I have never seen one in this location before."

Some of us have heard similar words, and all of us know the terrible toll it takes. However, Tom Hamilton is well trained in the art of bravery, so he calmly said, "Just tell me where and when to go to get all of this settled."

The PT scan was made right there in Columbia, and the biopsy was done in the doctor's office. The wait began. First, they studied the scan to see just where it was safe to cut and probe, and then the tissue samples were sent to a private lab. When the result arrived, the physician calmly told Tom that the mass was diagnosed a nasopharyngeal cancer.

It seems that Tom has a connection with the good Lord for everything that has happened, including that awful tumble, that proved to be a blessing. However, the grandest one was yet to arrive.

The Hamiltons' daughter dates a fine young man from Charlotte who has a sister that has reached the amazing level of M.D. plus Ph.D. in oncology radiation. He called her and told her about his girlfriend's father and she, being a person of deep interest and genuine kindness, called Tom, and they talked.

Her piece of advice is one that all of us should have tattooed on our arm: Get a second opinion. She, in her position at Yale School of Medicine, made that easy for him, and soon he was talking to the oncologist at Duke University Medical Center in Durham, N.C.

The appointment was set up, and the Hamiltons, Gail and Tom, walked together, side by side, each one comforting the other.

The 2.5-centimeter mass was found in the nasopharynx, which is a small box-shaped cavity just behind the nose. It is considered a rare form of the disease and needed to be treated quickly and in an aggressive manner.

Statistics tell us that while the average number of lung cancer victims tops more that 200,000 a year, the nasopharyngeal carcinoma is only 5,000 or less.

The involved methods of treatment were explained by the oncologist. Tom heard about unpleasant side effects and all that he would endure and also the rate of cure and the hope that offered.

Treatment would be administered in the Morris Treatment Center at Duke for seven weeks. It included both chemotherapy and radiation, which he handled with seeming ease, but then we know Tom is not one to talk about suffering or fear.

Plans had to be made for Tom to get to Duke on Monday and back home to Chester on Friday. Friends agreed to drive and for him not to worry, but that is an unsure thing and subject to outside changes. It was then that Allen Price and his wife, Donna, along with their nifty airplane entered the picture.

They had just joined a volunteer-based nonprofit organization called Mercy Flight Southeast. It is a group that puts together free air transportation for children or adults with either medical or humanitarian needs. It brings together private pilots and people who need transportation to far away places.

Allen and Donna say they had a business that made this gift possible, and they are thankful to be allowed to participate.

Tom was contacted about this wonderful organization, and he was amazed when he boarded his first flight, stepping into the wondrous world of heart-felt pure generosity and high-tech medicine. He traveled to Duke each Monday morning for seven weeks and returned to Chester every Friday afternoon. He flew, in those weeks, with five different men, and he learned that kindness and generosity are the traits that make the world run and help to make sick folks well.

So, he did fall ungracefully "bottom over teacup," but he was sent on that trip by those guardian angels, which were directed by the "Fellow" upstairs, who also inspired the pilots and Gail Hamilton for her undying patience and constant caring.

Mercy Flights can be contacted by calling 1-888-744-8263. Contributions are most welcome and always needed.