Sailor starts Cancer support network – Onward

Lt(N) Sean Milley with his family.

Lt(N) Sean Milley with his family.

Peter Mallett, Staff Writer ~

A cancer survivor from CFB Esquimalt has established a peer support network for military members and their families coping with their own fight against cancer.

Onward was launched earlier this month by Lt(N) Sean Milley, who recovered from testicular cancer in 2017. He beat cancer through early detection and is now helping Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) members fighting the disease.

“Since I was diagnosed, eight individuals from Victoria and across the country reached out to me with questions about cancer. I know in my situation it certainly helped to have people to talk to, people who have lived through cancer.”

The support network is a members-only Facebook Page that provides informal support to those undergoing treatment and those who have overcome it. Within two weeks of its launch, 15 people have joined. The plan is to grow Onward across Canada’s military community to let people know there is someone to talk to, that there is hope, and a path forward.

“We are not here to provide medical advice; our aim is to provide informal help to those battling cancer, to help them gain access to existing supports,” said Lt(N) Milley.  “It is a place to ask questions, share stories, and a place to get information about the benefits available to them and their family.”

Lt(N) Milley is the Flag Lieutenant for Rear-Admiral Bob Auchterlonie, Commander Maritime Forces Pacific. His recovery story may have been very different if it wasn’t for early detection.

Discomfort in his testicles gradually evolved into a pain so severe it was like someone had kicked him, he says. He immediately made an appointment at the base health clinic and was given an ultrasound scan. Test results revealed testicular cancer.

“It was a type of cancer that was very volatile and would have given fast transmission to the rest of the body. If you notice something is not right with your body get it checked out. For me it was one of those things that waiting a week or two could have been a matter of life or death.”

He had surgery to remove the cancer and one of his testicles, but he wasn’t required to undergo chemotherapy. It was the days following his diagnosis, the lead up to his surgery, and then the all-clear signal that were the most difficult times, he says.

“That was a painful week of telling family members and several difficult phone calls after my diagnosis,” he said. “The support I received from my shipmates was irreplaceable because my wife was four months pregnant at the time and we had a 10-year-old daughter.”

In turn, that support made him realize others who endure a similar diagnosis need the same assistance.

Also working with Onward are WO Steven Lewington, who battled thyroid cancer, and Lt(N) Stephen Tomlinson, who overcame a more difficult fight against testicle cancer.

He wrote about his inspirational fight that included 350 hours of chemotherapy, 11 radiation treatments, a seizure, and five surgeries in his book Onward.

“The idea behind my book and the support network Onward is that hope is a very powerful thing for people and is always stronger than fear,” said Lt(N) Tomlinson. “People need to know how to psychologically prepare, and they need someone there to tell them how things will go.”

The peer support group has received overwhelming support and encouragement across the Formation, from the Military Family Resource Centre, Canadian Forces Health Services Centre (Pacific), and the Joint Personnel Support Unit (JPSU) Pacific.

If you are a Canadian Armed Forces member or someone in your family is looking for support, Onward hopes to hear from you, says Lt(N) Milley.

To join the network go to:

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