Sailor moves onward after vigorous cancer battle

Lt(N) Stephen Tomlinson with his wife Stephanie, daughter Sophia, and son Seth during a family outing in Victoria.

Lt(N) Stephen Tomlinson with his wife Stephanie, daughter Sophia, and son Seth during a family outing in Victoria. Photo credit: Tiffany Champagne

Peter Mallett, Staff Writer ~

A training officer at Naval Fleet School (Pacific) who defied the odds and beat cancer is sharing his inspirational story with a new self-published book.

Onward is Lieutenant (Navy) Stephen Tomlinson’s blow-by-blow account of his full-scale, life-or-death war against cancer, now available through online publisher inkshares.com.

Lt(N) Tomlinson traces his “agonizing” battle against testicular cancer, recalling how the disease aggressively spread throughout his body to his lymph nodes, lungs and brain after his initial diagnosis in July 2017. His fight included 350 hours of chemotherapy, 11 radiation treatments, a seizure, and five surgeries that produced multiple low points where he says he almost gave up all hope of survival.

The Naval Warfare Officer sailed aboard HMCS Protecteur and HMCS Calgary before his cancer diagnosis and faced multiple battles with the disease. Just prior to his final and ultimately successful surgery in November 2018 to remove a plum-sized tumour from his brain, an exhausted and withered Lt(N) Tomlinson admits he was a shadow of his former self. His physician had given him low odds of survival and suggested he start making funeral arrangements with his wife. 

“I had almost come to the point of accepting that life was going south on me and I was given a one-in-ten shot by my doctor that I would live to Christmas,” says Tomlinson. “I did the final surgery and as soon as they pulled that tumour out of my brain it was like I became a new person.”

Fast-forward to July 8, 2019, two years after his initial cancer diagnosis, and his saga would reach a joyous conclusion. That’s when he returned to work after his doctor called him into her office and told him he was 100 per cent cancer free.

“Thankfully my story has a happy ending and today I’m at Venture and working my way back into readiness to complete my navigation tour on a frigate. How things have changed since then.”

An Epic Battle

During several stages of his fight with cancer, the 35-year-old admits there were multiple points where he almost lost hope. Those included an eight-hour-long Retroperitoneal Lymph Node Dissection surgery to remove all the lymph nodes on the inner walls of his back. The surgery, he says, involved having his gut slit down the whole length, having his intestinal track temporarily removed and his organs shifted to remove each lymph node.

“When it was all done, though I don’t personally remember it, I was told by the doctor that I asked to see them [the lymph nodes] in a jar so I could tell the cancer to go ‘F’ itself. For the first time, during that surgery, I truly became angry and spiteful towards cancer and I wanted to show it who the boss was.”

Maintaining a fighting spirit even after cancer had carved a painful path of destruction through his body wasn’t his own idea. That came from the legacy and spirit of Terry Fox. 

Early in his battle with cancer, Lt(N) Tomlinson went to the Royal B.C. Museum to see the touring Terry Fox: Running to the Heart of Canada exhibit and says the moment was a game-changer. The exhibit included many personal belongings from Fox’s Marathon of Hope including his van, and his prosthetic leg.

“I saw something change in me immediately after I saw the exhibit, and then learned more about Fox and his inextinguishable determination. For the first time since my diagnosis I had hope and told myself not to let cancer rob me of my dignity.”

Coping with PTSD

Lt(N) Tomlinson is still fighting another serious medical condition. At the same time the cancer spread through his body he was also diagnosed with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), which he says can be traced back to not one but multiple traumatic events in his life.

The biggest of those include his roller-coaster-ride fighting cancer but also a devastating 11-hour-long engine room fire that occurred during his first deployment in Protecteur in February 2014. The fire injured 20 sailors and caused a “significant psychological impact” on him and many others.

“When I was finishing with my cancer treatment I was starting to have terrible nightmares that always had the sound of my IV pump in the hospital running empty and the slow chime that went with it. After many of these nightmares I would rush to the washroom and get sick. There are many parts of the book that aren’t pretty, the intent is to discuss the cancer diagnosis directly along with the triggers for my PTSD.”

All of his written accounts were initially intended to be kept private. His literary project was originally part of his treatment for his mental health injuries prescribed by his therapist.

“He had decided that since I am an English and history graduate from Carleton University and enjoy writing, that writing down my thoughts and memories would be good therapy for me and a way of dealing with the mental trauma. It really was therapeutic to put it all down; writing this book gave me the proper head space to reset and fight the cancer, to keep my hope alive and find the will to continue.”

He will continue to manage the PTSD through therapy and knows he is in for another tough battle.

Onward could see wider distribution in Amazon, Chapters, and Barnes and Noble if it attains Inkshare’s required level of 750 pre-orders. After its first week on the market, sales of the book surpassed 100 copies thanks to some favourable promotion on the B.C. Cancer website and social media platforms.

For more information about Lt(N) Tomlinson’s book and how to order copies of it visit the webpage www.inkshares.com/books/onward

Filed Under: Top Stories

About the Author: The Lookout Newspaper can trace its history back to April 1943 when CFB Esquimalt’s first newspaper was published. Since then, Lookout has grown into the award winning source for Pacific Navy News. Leading the way towards interactive social media reach, we are a community resource newspaper growing a world wide audience.

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