Bergdorf: Odyssey of an Airman

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(U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Michael J. Hunsaker)
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Beale Air Force Base Calif. — The calmness prior to an engagement with enemy combatants resembles the calmness before a storm. The air is still and sounds are quiet, life is bliss and then in a moments instance muzzle flashes erupt, bullets are whistling by your head and rocket-propelled-grenades are exploding. Chaos engulfs around you, but in this moment years of training and heightened senses take over and one goal consumes your thoughts. How do I keep everyone safe?

For Staff Sgt. Andrew Bergdorf, 9th Civil Engineer Squadron electrical power production supervisor, this was his reality during a fire-fight he experienced while deployed to Afghanistan in 2012. Bergdorf endured multiple engagements during his deployment, at one point rendering aid to a wounded solider. As life threatening as these battles were; for Bergdorf there was another battle occurring, but he was not aware of its existence.

Months into his deployment Bergdorf received word his father-in-law had passed away, he was cleared to fly home to support his loved ones. While he was there he felt pain in his back. The pain was great enough for him to travel to an emergency room. The doctors told him it was a pulled muscle. He was treated then cleared to return to his deployment.

Five months into his deployment the pain remained and Bergdorf decided to seek further medical treatment at the Craig Joint Theater Hospital, at Bagram Airfield, Afghanistan.

“I felt frustrated,” Bergdorf said. “I didn’t understand what was wrong with me and the doctor was as frustrated as I was.”

After extensive testing the medical team discovered his lymph nodes were five times the normal size they should be and they informed him he had testicular cancer.

“After hearing that I have cancer, I knew that it was going to change my life,” Bergdorf said. “I was very anxious to see my family. Being handed a phone card and being told to call my wife was one of the hardest things I had to experience.”

Immediately after his diagnosis, Bergdorf received orders to return home where he could undergo the necessary treatment.

“It was kind of a relief in a sense because I knew he was in so much pain the whole time he was there,” said Meagan Bergdorf. “I knew he would come home and get taken care of.”

After spending a week at the San Antonio Medical Center, Bergdorf was sent to his home station, Beale Air Force Base, California. He was greeted by his squadron leadership and immediate family members.

“We felt well taken care of and that everyone was pulling for us,” Meagan said.

Bergdorf and his family traveled to Travis Air Force Base, California weekly for three months of chemotherapy.

“The nurses and staff were very friendly and great to my family,” Bergdorf said.

“Trying to keep a schedule and everyone’s spirits high was tough, having an 18-month old made it kind of difficult.” Meagan said. “Everyone slept on the two hour ride home except for me, but it was peaceful going back.”

During his treatment Bergdorf was weakened by the chemo medicine.

“I would feel really terrible the rest of the day,” he said. “I would feel heavily bloated and nauseous.”

After three weeks he had lost his hair, he would sparsely participate in outdoor activities due to being easily sun-burned. So he would spend more of his time with his family indoors doing other activities.

“A lot of the times I could see he was feeling bad,” Meagan said. “He was just happy to be home with his daughter.”

After months of fighting, with the support of his family Bergdorf was declared in remission as of mid-December 2012.

“I felt like there was a weight that had been lifted off my shoulders,” Bergdorf said. “I was looking forward to getting back to a normal life.”

Although his cancer was in remission, Bergdorf did not escape without complications.

During his ordeal he was told that he had minuscule chances of having another child. However, ten months after his remission his wife became pregnant and gave birth to their second child, Penn, in July of 2014.

“We were nervous, but we had him looked over by doctors to make sure nothing had gone wrong,” said the father of two. “He was in perfect health.”

Additionally, Bergdorf underwent significant weight gain during his treatment. He looked for fun and healthy options to help him to regain his fitness.

“While in Italy, I tried cycling,” he said. “There was a big learning curve, but it gave me the same rush I used to get from roller coasters.”

Cancer qualified Bergdorf to participate in events at the Department of Defense Wounded Warrior games which will take place at the U.S. Military Academy in West Point, New York on June 14-22.

To train for his upcoming events Bergdorf rides his road bike eight miles to and from work every day.

“During lunch I’ll go do sprints at the track or run two miles at a very fast pace,” Bergdorf said. “I also try to swim at least once a week.”

The annual U.S. Air Force Trials at Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada allowed him the opportunity to qualify for the Wounded Warrior Games Team. He received accolades in cycling, track and swimming.

After the trials he qualified for the Southeast Warrior Care event. He received training and was chosen to be part of the 45-person team that will compete at the games representing the Air Force.

“They trained us really hard,” he said. “The games will be a challenge. But, I look forward to the opportunity to compete against the tough competition.”

Bergdorf will be competing in the ambulatory categories of cycling, track, and swimming. He will be an alternate for wheelchair basketball and sitting volleyball. Being a participant he will be competing in a 30-kilometer race for cycling, a 50-meter freestyle swim, and 1500m, 800m, 400m sprints in track.

After looking back at his experiences and now looking forward Bergdorf has gained perspective.

“Don’t lose sight of the big picture, it might be hard now, but it’ll be worth it,” said Bergdorf. “I haven’t gone a day without being grateful for the support of my family, unit, and doctors. Seize every opportunity you can and take control of your health. I am fortunate to be where I am today.”

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