As a young pilot flying missions in Vietnam, Michael Delia never dreamed his military service would lead to a struggle to survive five decades later and provide an emotional story of hope and inspiration for untold generations to come.
Delia, 73, lives in Kennebunk with his wife of 50 years after a 27-year career in the U.S. Air Force and another 25 years as a defense industry executive and consultant. A father of three and a grandfather of eight, he has always been health-conscious, active as an athlete and a coach, as well as an avid skier.
But Delia’s world was turned upside down in late 2013 when he was diagnosed with large B-cell lymphoma stemming from what is thought to be exposure to Agent Orange in Vietnam. It was a pivotal moment in his life and led to a monumental struggle to overcome a deadly cancer.
While attending a class in Saco, Delia discovered a lump on his inner thigh and at first thought it was a swollen cyst. A biopsy indicated that the retired colonel, a decorated command and combat pilot, was suffering from Stage 3 lymphoma and he then endured two rounds of chemotherapy, but the cancer kept coming back.
“It spread to both sides of my body and into my lymph nodes and a lung,” Delia said. “I thought of my mother who we lost to cancer 25 years ago.”
Oncologist Dr. Helen Ryan at New England Cancer Specialists in Scarborough learned of a clinical trial program for a new treatment that was going to be conducted at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute/Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston and shared that news with Delia.