Don’t Give Up on Testicular Cancer

An F-16 Fighter Pilot Shares His Testicular Cancer Journey

November 27, 2023 The Max Mallory Foundation - Joyce Lofstrom host Season 3 Episode 11
An F-16 Fighter Pilot Shares His Testicular Cancer Journey
Don’t Give Up on Testicular Cancer
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Don’t Give Up on Testicular Cancer
An F-16 Fighter Pilot Shares His Testicular Cancer Journey
Nov 27, 2023 Season 3 Episode 11
The Max Mallory Foundation - Joyce Lofstrom host

At 18, Chuck Boynton knew he wanted to fly, so after graduating high school, he enlisted in the Air Force Reserves as an aircraft mechanic, and he attended the University of South Florida Reserve Officers Training Corps. He was enrolled in a 55-week, three-phase training program as a First Lieutenant when he was diagnosed with testicular cancer in July 2018.

Now, Captain Chuck Boynton, an F-16 pilot at Shaw Air Force Base, South Carolina, will share his testicular cancer journey with us. And tell us how he returned to the cockpit, where he is known by his callsign Atlas, the Greek mythology figure tasked with carrying the sky on his shoulders. 

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Show Notes Transcript

At 18, Chuck Boynton knew he wanted to fly, so after graduating high school, he enlisted in the Air Force Reserves as an aircraft mechanic, and he attended the University of South Florida Reserve Officers Training Corps. He was enrolled in a 55-week, three-phase training program as a First Lieutenant when he was diagnosed with testicular cancer in July 2018.

Now, Captain Chuck Boynton, an F-16 pilot at Shaw Air Force Base, South Carolina, will share his testicular cancer journey with us. And tell us how he returned to the cockpit, where he is known by his callsign Atlas, the Greek mythology figure tasked with carrying the sky on his shoulders. 

Send us a Text Message.

Support the Show.

Find us on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook & Linkedin.

If you can please support our nonprofit through Patreon.

An F-16 Fighter Pilot Shares His Testicular Cancer Journey, with Chuck Boynton, season 3, episode 11 

INTRO SOUNDBITE FROM GUEST: I know now and I truly believe that you're not defined by events that happen to you, you're defined by the way you react to them. And while cancer did not change me, it did make me a different person. It's naive not to think that, right? Like I have experienced something that a lot of people won't.


ANNOUNCER: Welcome to Don't Give Up on Testicular Cancer, a podcast where testicular cancer survivors, caregivers, and others who have navigated the cancer journey share their stories. The podcast comes to you from the Max Mallory Foundation. A non-profit family foundation focused on educating about testicular cancer in honor and in memory of Max Mallory, who died in 2016 at the young age of 22 from testicular cancer. Had he survived, Max wanted to help young adults with cancer. This podcast helps meet that goal. Here now is your host, Joyce Lofstrom, Max's mom, and a young adult cancer survivor.


JOYCE: Hi, this is Joyce, and with me today is Chuck Boynton. At 18, he knew he wanted to fly, so after graduating high school, Chuck enlisted in the Air Force Reserves as an aircraft mechanic, and he attended the University of South Florida Reserve Officers Training Corps. He was enrolled in a 55-week, three-phase training program as a first lieutenant when he was diagnosed with testicular cancer in July 2018. Now Captain Chuck Boynton, an F-16 pilot at Shaw Air Force Base, South Carolina, will share his testicular cancer journey with us and tell us how he returned to the cockpit where he is known with his callsign Atlas, the Greek mythology figure tasked with carrying the sky on his shoulders. So Chuck, I'm so glad you could join me today. Why don't you start and just share your story, anything you want to tell us about your testicular cancer journey.


CHUCK: I'll just start from the question, right? So I'll start out by saying I’m not representative of the government or the United States Air Force. It's my disclaimer that I have to throw out there. Everything is personal opinion and experience of Mr. Charles Boynton, mister, not captain. But my cancer journey actually, I think it's important to understand where I was at in life because it really shaped my entire experience.


By the time I was diagnosed, I was essentially in the middle of fighter pilot training. I was at Wichita Falls, Texas at Shepard Air Force Base. I was training in something called INJEPT, which is an acronym as we like to always use in the military. It stands for Euro-NATO Joint Jet Pilot Training. It's an intense premier fighter pilot training where it's multinationally manned, it's managed by many different partners at NATO. So I'm 25 years old in this program designed to train you as a fighter pilot, which is the only one that is multinational at this scale in the world. And I'm representing not only my country, my family, myself, and there are pilots from Germany, Denmark, the Netherlands, Italians, all over the world, and they send the best of the best, right?


So you're in this high-performance A-type personality environment where everyone wants to be the best that they can be to represent their country and themselves and be a really good fighter pilot. I'm in this program with all the A-type personalities [and]  training really hard. It's 12-hour days, five days a week. And then when you're not there at work, you are at home studying, and you're not there longer simply because legally they can't keep you longer. So I'm in this point in my life where I feel like I'm training with the top-tier individuals. I am studying as hard as I can, trying as hard as I can. And, I started having these weird feelings and it was intense where I was the senior ranking officer of the class. I was the guy who was in charge of everyone, getting everyone, corralling the troops of all these A-types. That can be very difficult when everyone is very much a free thinker with a lot to provide.


So I started having issues working with people. I was a lot more self-conscious about things. I was sleeping 12 hours a night, still wasn't feeling great. I would wake up exhausted. And I started having some weird pains in that region, you know, and it was in my left testicle. And at the time it was around February, March, April, a few months before diagnosis. And I remember asking some of the other guys in my class, like, hey, like, does it kind of hurt when you sit down and like you still have some pains and they're like, yeah, man, it still hurts. It's really uncomfortable. I'm like, okay, like maybe that's just how it is. Like maybe I just don't fit the thing. Like whatever. And I actually wouldn't have even known that I had testicular cancer if it wasn't for a random infection in my finger, right?


Because all those other things I attributed to being in a fighter pilot training program, like, of course, I'm going to be tired. Of course, I'm going to be stressed. Of course, all of these things are just going to happen to me. That's part of the training environment and what they're trying to teach me to deal with. So most of what I experienced, I chalked up to being the training itself. And it wasn't until I went to the doctor, and again, I think this is just being in the military and having these resources available were absolutely insurmountable in me being diagnosed so early on, because I went to the doctor for something else. Anytime you have an issue at all, they tell you, go to the flight doc, get it figured out. Don't show up to fly until you're healthy and you're ready to go. So I showed up with a crazy infection. My finger was a hangnail that turned into a wild, like a big puffy finger. It was really gross. You know, it was, it was pretty funny. But at the same time, when I went to go back to get it relooked at, I was having those pains and it got to a point where it was almost unbearable, where it was a sharp pain in my left testicle.


I had to sit differently. I had to walk differently just to feel…I don't know. So I remember checking myself. And the best way I can describe is it feels like a miniature lumpy potato. It was not how all the doctors described testing yourself, doing the checks. It did not feel like I thought it should. I almost didn't say anything. I was like, maybe this is just me. I've never really felt this before. I don't know, like whatever. And I remember I was about to walk out of the doctor's office, and I remember her name, Major Ann Davis, you know, she's just like, all right, cool. You're ready to go. Like your finger's all good now. Yeah, I'll sign you back and go fly later today. I'm like, sweet--before I go, I have some weird stuff going on. It kind of feels weird. Can you just check it out for me? And, you know, she's caught off guard because they don't normally do that type of stuff. And I was like, she's like, yeah, of course. Yeah. We have to do a physical. I started unzipping, you know--getting the, she's like, well, hold on. Like, let me put the curtains up.


So she  she starts doing her analysis or evaluation, we'll say. And I remember her face going from like, like what am I looking forward to, to like confusion, to like, something's up. And she says, you know what, why don't we get you an ultrasound? I think that'd be good for you. I'm like, okay, cool. When do you want me to schedule that? She's like right now, right now--you should go do it right now. I'm like, oh, okay. Like, so I remember going over to the tech again, military installation. It's all together. I just walk right over and the poor tech who is the same age as me, some 25-year-old female who had skipped her lunch. So she can ultrasound my junk. She takes me back and we start having a conversation with me on the table. It's very awkward and I'm trying to break the ice a little bit. She's mid-sentence. We're talking about something completely, you know, not relevant to anything that's going on. And I remember her saying like, yeah, and like, she just stops mid-sentence. And all I hear is the awkward sound of the ultrasound machine, and then her just deadpanning the machine, like the screen. And I'm like, oh, man, something's up. Something's really up.


And I end up asking her, hey, what you seeing? She just says, I'm just a tech. I don't really know. In my head, I'm like, BS, man. Come on. So I end up going back to the doctor's office. And I sit for about an hour and a half, and I had class later on that evening and I was like, I'm not going to miss my class. I'm in the middle of training. I can't miss this. So I ended up going back up to the front desk. I'm like, hey, I got to go. Like you guys give me something, or tell me to come back. Like I can't just sit here all day. And finally, Major Davis walks out, and she looks at me. She's like, okay, you can come back now. I'm like, okay, sweet. So I walked back, and I knew a hundred percent [that] I was in trouble when instead of taking me to a patient room, she takes me to a big comfy recliner in a conference room, sits me down right next to me and then tells me, hey, we found two masses in your testicles. And I'm like, oh, okay, well, what does that mean? She's like, well, we don't know what they are. We don't exactly understand. Like it could be anything. We really don't know. I'm like, okay, well, what do I do next? 


And she looks at me, she's like, well, we want to send you to a specialist. You're going to go to urologist. We're going to have him check you out and see what's going on. I'm like, okay. She's like, do you have any questions? I'm like, well, I don't know. What should I ask? You know, she just looks at me. She's like, you're, you're taking this so well. And I'm like, well, do you want me to cry? Like, what do you want me to do? I got to get to class. Like, I'm just going to keep going until we know what it is and what we're going to do.


And that mentality is what carried me through the rest of my treatment, as well as kind of set the stage for how I would handle it. So from that point on, anytime I went to another doctor, which I went through about three or four others, anytime I had to meet with anyone regarding treatment, it was always, okay, what's the deal? What do we do next? And what can I do to help? What do we do next? So that was kind of the beginning of my cancer journey. And I went through a couple of doctors. One doctor decided that I shouldn't see him, that I needed to go see an oncologist because he was just a urologist in a small town, Wichita Falls, Texas.


I asked my doctors if they could send me to Moffitt Research Center, which is out in Tampa, Florida, University of South Florida campus. That's where I met Dr. Sexton [and] ended up going through the treatment. I ended up having a bilateral radical orchiectomy, so I got both of mine removed. Then I had an RPLND, a retroperitoneal lymph node dissection, an XLAP for some. I described it as getting cut open like an avocado and taking the nut out. That's essentially what happened. So I found out that I had type 1S, I think is the right answer. So we had the orchiectomy. My tumor markers did not go down like they intended. And I think that may have been just a byproduct of timing.


So in an effort to get me back in the jet sooner and help me out, Dr. Sexton recommended, hey, we'll do one more CT scan, see where your lymph nodes are at. And then if we need to, we'll either do chemo radiation, the RPLND, or a combination of both. So when the CT scan came back, the radiologist said that there was like one or two lymph nodes that were just ever so slightly off. And Dr. Sexton's like, hey man, let's just do the RPLND. It's an intense surgery, but it's going to be your best bet to get back in the jet because not only was I facing the health side of things, but as the A-type wannabe fighter pilot that I was, I was also concerned about getting back in the aircraft. And Dr. Sexton fully understood that because he was a flight doctor, had actually trained in the T-38. He was an Air Force doctor. It was perfect.


So he gave me all the recommendations, all the things that made sense to get me back in the cockpit. And his recommendation of doing the RPLND, even though the lymph node was, I mean, we all have abnormalities in our bodies, and that could have just been mine. Luckily, when we did the RPL&D, it turned out that there was no tumor growth or anything in the lymph nodes. So my cancer diagnosis ended at the 1S, 1B, whatever. It had kind of spread up to the spermatic cord. It had spread up from the left side. And it turns out I had two different types at the same time, completely separate. And I think that's why Dr. Sexton was very interested. He asked me, hey, man, like, did you mess with any chemicals or any radiation? I'm like, dude, I don't know, man. I just, I used to work on the F 16 as a crew chief and we have radars. I don't know. You know?


JOYCE: So now wait, let me ask you a question here. You had two different types of testicular cancer at the same time. Is that right?


CHUCK: Yeah. So the way I understand it, and I was never fully comprehending it, I had a mixed germ cell tumor on my left and the right was a non-seminoma or non-squall type. I can pull it up. I did have a carcinoma. I don't know the specific nomenclature for it, so to speak. The left was the more aggressive, that actually had spread up; that was a carcinoma. I think looking back on the reports, it was like 5 to 10 percent carcinoma, but my whole left testicle was essentially a giant tumor by the time we found it. I think it was 80, 90 percent, just some type of tumor. And I remember Dr. Sexton sitting me down and he looks at me, he's like, I'll be honest, man, I recommend that we get them both out. He's like, you try to keep the right one, but it's going to be about 30 percent the size it was. And it's probably not going to be functional. You could keep it. He starts going to this whole plan. I'm like, look, man, just do what you, whatever you recommend. If you recommend getting them out, get them out. They're trying to kill me. Get them the hell out. Let's screw it.


So that's what happened with that. And I ended up having the orchiectomy a month later, again, because the CT scan and everything, I had the RPLND and then that was in the September of 2018. Yeah, so that's kind of the overarching. I usually have a better story I have with a beer and it's a lot more humorous because that's just the kind of guy I am, but there's the generic version.


JOYCE: Well, you know, I'm just listening to you. You have such a positive attitude about everything, and you were kind of like, let's just get this done and I've got to do it and go for it. And I think that makes such a difference in a cancer diagnosis for anybody and any kind of cancer, really, to your credit to take that type of attitude and live it.


CHUCK: So I'll say that I was very lucky with the diagnosis. We caught it relatively early. I didn't have to do chemo. There was no radiation that I needed to do. There are two things. One is I had a little bit of survivor guilt. And I say that because when I was going through treatment, I had my first surgery, and my training ROTC unit was actually geographically located with Moffitt. They were at USF, University of South Florida. And going through treatment, I got bored. I was like, I can't just sit around doing nothing. I just went from studying 12 hours a day, learning how to fly jets to nothing. I'm sitting here worried about survival. Come on, man, I got to do more than that.


So I actually reached out to my unit that was there and asked him if I could just come help out as a lieutenant. So I'd go in, I'd work, I'd go do my treatment, I would go do whatever I needed to. I had my flight suit on, so I'd wear my uniform, I'd go help out with the cadets, and then I'd go to get my treatment over at Moffitt. I'd walk over there. know, I'm walking through, and I have sleeves on, and my patient band is covered up or I try to wear it proudly just so people knew, but walking through Moffitt where, you know, I remember seeing a veteran who had like a Gulf War hat or a Vietnam hat. I can't quite recall, but he had one of those hats that clearly indicated he was a veteran and had fought some crazy wars. And he saw me, looked at me and I could see like his face had lit up, you know, he was like, wow, what is an officer pilot dude walking through here? And I'm like, hey man, I'm like, I'm one of you guys.


But seeing people at Moffitt, seeing people who very clearly might not be there within the week, seeing people who are like very much struggling. And here I am just walking in all happy, you know, like, I'm just here to do some blood work today. I'm gonna go back to work. It kind of messes with you. And it makes you question like, why is this stuff happening? And why? Why am I getting off so lucky? And you know, for me, I was, like I said, I was very lucky. The fear of death was never really there. And when I had the doctors interact with me, they're like, hey, man, like, it's a very high survival rate, we caught it early, like, we think you'll be fine. So as soon as they said that I was like, okay, cool, man, I will not worry about it.


At the same time though, seeing people who were struggling, it was complicated. It's a weird feeling when you stop going from just living to now surviving. You're now no longer just existing. You're denying and defying death. Once you have that happen, there's always that back thought in your brain of like, well, my chances are a lot higher now. What's going to happen next? Am I going to catch something else? Is something else going to happen to me? What happens next? And I think people at Moffitt Cancer Centers who are going through those treatments, you've experienced it. It is a psychological hellhole for everyone involved.


JOYCE: I've read several articles about your journey. And I know one of them talked about how your drive to succeed changed during your testicular cancer journey. Can you talk about that?


CHUCK: Yeah. So the drive to succeed, the reference in that article was really when I was going through pilot training before I'd found out. And I relate it to my lack of testosterone. So we found out and I remember waking up for my first surgery, Dr. Sexton was a GU guy, he was a urologist, he understood testosterone and how that stuff works. And they did tests and they realized that my testicles hadn't been functioning properly for a while. And I probably hadn't been getting a normal dose of testosterone for a while. So here I am in this A type personality with all these really intense guys and then I don't get the hormones that a normal male does and yeah, I quickly become kind of like a blob of a person.


As a male, I don't think you really realize how much your hormones affect you until you don't have them and then you wake up tired, you're always tired, your drive goes away, your desire to pursue things that you always pursued, like that intensity is a big result of hormones in my opinion, and kind of what I understand. And I remember sitting in training and I struggled a lot, and there were times where I wanted to quit. There's times where I don't want to say I thought about suicide, but there was times where I was like, I don't want to exist anymore. I don't want to be here. I don't want to do anything. I just want to stay in bed.


I was a big mentor all the time throughout ROTC. I loved being that guy who could help people achieve their dreams of being a pilot or making it through and becoming an officer. That's just what I thoroughly enjoyed. And there was one mentee of mine, I remember him, we were typing on a messaging app and he asked me, he's like, hey man, like how's pilot training going? He really wanted to be a pilot, a fighter pilot. He's like, hey, how's it going? I was like, I don't know, man. We're typing. And I was like, I don't really know. I, I don't know if I want to do this anymore. He's like, what do you mean? I was like, I don't know. I just, it's not that happy. Just stuff just seems really hard. And I just, I don't think I want to do this anymore.


I remember him asking me back. He's like, this doesn't sound like you. And I'm like, I don't know, man. And again, like you just are kind of like a blob of a person. And I look back at that. I'm like, whoa, that was like prime time when, you know, like I probably hadn't been getting the stuff that I normally did. And that all that stuff, like your drive, your personality just kind of went away. And I remember waking up like, no kidding, I had just woken up from my orchiectomy. I just got neutered, as I like to say, you know, like a stray dog with the humane society.


I woke up and I was like, whoa, man, I feel good, but man, my arm is sore. You know,  friends walked in there like, well, you just had surgery. And I was like, I don't know. I just, I got plenty of energy right now. Like I'm ready to go. Like I had woken up from anesthesia. I'm still in the like post-op room. Like I don't know, but I remember there was a young volunteer girl about my age who was super cute. All of a sudden, I'm like, wow, guys, I really want to – do you guys know who that is? They're like, no, dude, she's just a volunteer. I'm like, okay. My mom comes in. I'm like, hey, mom, how are you doing? She's like, oh, good. Like, how are you, honey? I'm like, I'm fine. Do you know who that girl is? I convinced my friends to go get her number. It was like this whole thing, but yeah. I never messaged her because it's like, wow. You can't tell a cancer patient, no, that's just not fair. But Dr. Sexton comes in and he's like, yep, so we did this. And I went ahead and gave you a shot of testosterone. You probably haven't had that in a while. You're probably feeling a lot better. I'm like, oh, yeah, that makes sense.


JOYCE: Well, that's really interesting when you compare before and after, I guess. something to really understand about our bodies.


CHUCK: So yeah, I think that drive that disappeared and the lack of desires, all of that was very much tied to A, the cancer, but B, as a result, the hormones that I was not getting and I was used to. And that was actually, sidebar back to the last question, that was probably the second hardest part for me, was reintegrating with the hormones and understanding that like your mindset your personality like it can be very fickle and it can be very based on just a chemical in your body and it's like a weird introspective thing to understand because I still struggle with finding the right balance and I have been ever since. I don't know what my right amount was before all this happened. I don't know what makes me feel better or worse. It's kind of a guessing game. And then once I feel stable, I just stay at it. And there's times where if you miss a dose, like a daily dose, so I do the gel now. So I do a daily amount every day.


There are days where I'm like, man, I feel way too intense. I'm too anxious. I'm too out there. I'm just going to take the day off. Not the right answer. But, you know, I find myself kind of figuring out like, there's not a lot of studies that has something to do with like a male who wants to remain a male who loses his junk and wants to like, it's, it's very tough. And ironically, I found more information on like bodybuilding websites and from friends who, you know, do that type of stuff. Like they have helped me more understanding like, what this can impact and how this impacts you and like when they recognize things like it's wild that that was where I found more information from than my doctors because There's not a lot of studies on it. There's not a lot of information and there's not a, like a very good systematic way of understanding what makes you feel good, right? There's a range. As long as you're in that range, you're good to go. Outside of that, it's like minor tweaks to figure out what works for you, but a dose is a dose and everyone's different. Everybody's body's different and the way it's, it's very tough. So I think that was a, probably one of the other big things that still impacts me today, definitely the aftereffects.


JOYCE: I just want to comment on a couple of things that you mentioned. One was that when you didn't feel right, you took a day off. And I think that's important for our listeners to hear because not everybody does that or thinks about it. And you have to take care of yourself, not only your body, but your mental health as well, which all goes together. I applaud you for doing that and recognizing that that's an important, I guess, treatment,  to take care of yourself in that way. And I've interviewed other men who have faced the same challenge as you and had to worry about the right level of testosterone after their surgeries and losing their testicles. I think it's something all of us need to really understand better, the role of hormones in our bodies. When I was 25, I had thyroid cancer and had my thyroid gland taken out. And I've been taking a thyroid replacement since then. And it's the same thing. It has to be right. It'll affect your weight, your energy, a lot of things. And I didn't know that until I went through this. So it's just important to not only listen to your body, but understand what it's telling you, I guess, is one way to say it.


CHUCK: I think a lot of people don't like the idea of something that may necessarily be out of their own control. The idea that what I think, feel, and believe is not just a product of me being me, but it's a product of my body being itself. It almost feels as if you have no control over that. And I think people don't want to believe that. I didn't at first. And when I came back from my cancer treatment, went back to work in Shepard as a lieutenant, anytime someone would ask me, dude, like, what are you doing here? Why are you a young lieutenant, but not flying, but you have like a ‘big boy’ job? What are you? What's your role here? Why? And I'm like, oh, hey, my name is ‘No Nut Chuck,’ formerly known as Chuck. I had testicular cancer, got them both removed, neutered like a stray dog, I get a shot of liquid, you know, bull testosterone injected in my butt every week. And it's great. I feel great. I'm a good person. I'm enjoying it. I love it. And they're just like, whoa, dude, I am so sorry. And my initial reaction was like, why are you sorry? Like, don't be sorry for me. Like, do not be sorry for me. I'm fine. Like, did you give me cancer? And they're usually taken back because not only did I just tell him I have cancer, and now I'm yelling at him for apologizing for it. In my mind, and I think a lot of people, again, high-performing A-type individuals don't want to be defined by things like that that were out of their control. I think that was a little naive of me to believe now and think and feel, and I know people are trying to be empathetic and sympathetic and help out, and have my own opinions of that, but you can't hate on people for wanting to make you feel better or try to at least show some support.


But I know now, and I truly believe that you're not defined by events that happen to you, you're defined by the way you react to them. And while cancer did not change me, it did make me a different person. It's naive not to think that, right? Like I have experienced something that a lot of people won't and the way you handle that defines you. So it's not that cancer has made me a certain person and it is me and I am defined by my testicular cancer, but it does impact you in a way that changes the way you think, feel, believe. And you shouldn't be ashamed of that. You shouldn't be afraid of that. You shouldn't be afraid of being somewhat altered by it. And I think it's been more empowering for me to actually believe that so that I can use it to help others and talk to people about my experiences and have these kinds of conversations. I think that's absolutely important for people to hear and have some kind of beacon of hope.


JOYCE: So now let's switch topics for a minute and tell us what an F-16 pilot is and does and anything that goes with it, like the training. Just to understand your career, I think, at least for me, I think, you know, Top Gun, Top Gun Maverick, Tom Cruise, the movies. But that is what you do, right? That's the kind of pilot that you've trained for and are doing right now.


CHUCK: It's funny because I was supposed to be in a documentary, and it was very much an attempt at writing ‘The Coattails of Top Gun.’ So I heard this for about six months. But you're not wrong, right? Personally, and I know I'm going to get a lot of hate for this, but I think Top Gun 2 does a good job of portraying some of the things that we faced as fighter pilots. One scene that I specifically remember is where I can't remember her name, but the female pilot was experiencing an engine malfunction, and the jet goes crazy. And the speed and the systematic way at which she handles that emergency is--it's not 100% accurate, but that level of, we'll say like speed and everything else, the way she handles it was just awesome. And I think that mentality, when I saw that happening, I was getting a little emotional. It's like, man, I can imagine this happening in the jet and what's going through my mind. I think they do that well. Yeah, the tactics, all the intensity of an F-14 going against a fifth gen Su-57 lookalike type aircraft. It's ridiculous, but at the same time, yeah, we are intense individuals who have a culture of intense, play hard, party hard type mentality. And while being an F-16 pilot is super cool, it's also super difficult. It's the hardest thing I've ever done in my life and I'm a cancer survivor.


It's difficult. It's a career or a job where you will study for the rest of your career. You will always not know something. You will always have to train. You will always have to focus on tactics and being a good fighter pilot while also focusing on the basics. As an F-16 pilot, my days are getting ready for flights while also doing additional duties, things like that. But being a fighter pilot all in all is a very big mentality. I don't like the idea that we're all arrogant pricks. I think that's something that is a stereotype. Most people I know like, yeah, we are A-types and you put a lot of us in a room and we can start acting like frat boys. That's definitely a thing, males and females. It's a mentality that breeds confidence. It requires confidence because if you get in a jet and you're moving 400 knots and an emergency happens or something happens, you don't have time to think. You have to react, and you have to be very confident and competent in the ways to respond.


And if you aren't, you know, a second delay, or just a missed switch or an incorrect checklist item or just not doing what you're supposed to, and you could be dead or you could destroy a multi-million-dollar aircraft. You may not fly again. Or if you're in a combat scenario, people may die, and it may not be the right people. So those are things that you're constantly dealing with and trying to understand and develop a mentality to A, deal with it in the jet so that it doesn't snowball into a bad effect, but B, just be prepared for it. That's tough to do. That's kind of my overarching F-16 mentality type job thing. I could talk specifics, but in reality, it's just flying.


JOYCE: Well, to keep going on the movie topic, but it seems in both of those movies, there was a lot of camaraderie among the pilots and going to school and all of that. I think, you know, you're responsible for another life if you are up in that plane with another person. It's just that kind of, I guess, support or connection that you might feel going through all of this. But I think that's important for us who are listening to this to understand that part of being a fighter pilot.


CHUCK: Yeah. For those people who want to be pilots or have ever thought about it, it's funny because if you look at Tom Cruise and all those guys, they're all very fit, jock-like. They're going to go play volleyball with their shirts off. Not necessarily true. I've seen some fat bodies flying jets and they do just as well as the fit guys. But in reality, I used to think when I was trying to become a fighter pilot, it meant being a jock and you have to be this super fit individual who just got smart at flying. And in reality, the tables have turned because of the technology, the amount of information that's out there, the things that are trying to kill us, the things that we're trying to destroy. You now have to be a freaking nerd that somewhat becomes a jock. You meet fighter pilots, and a lot of them were a lot of super smart people, and you have to be you. I mean, when you show up to pilot training, baby pilot training, I mean, you've never flown before, and you're flying the T-6. It's a propeller-type aircraft. You show up and they give you a stack of books about this. I mean, now they put it on an iPad to save paper, but there's thousands and thousands, tens of thousands of pages of information that you have to know and understand in order to fly that aircraft.


And then when you go to the T-38, which is the next step, like no kidding fighter pilot training, there's even more. And then when you show up to the F-16 training, which is about nine months long, it is by golly, it is a lot, dude. And you got unclassified and then you have classified stuff. So then not only can you not take it home and you can't talk about it outside of a specific location, you can only study it. inside of the location. You can't really take notes. You can't bring it home. You have to be able to learn, employ, and just fully understand that information without ever being able to study on your own time unless you go to work. So it's intense. It really is. And it can be very intense.


JOYCE: You've already talked a bit about the struggle aspect of cancer and being a pilot and so forth, but can you share a little bit more about the mental health side of it? You've talked about it earlier when we talked about the day off, but I think a lot of men may not deal with that as thoroughly perhaps as they could. Anything you want to add about that in your own experience?


CHUCK: Yeah, so I know you mentioned the quote of struggle is what I live for because every setback has intensified my mental resiliency. I have always really looked up to Marcus Aurelius, the Stoics, that type of philosophical mindset. That's always helped me more than other aspects in life. And I truly believe that when things happen to you, again, you're not defined by them. They don't alter you as a human being. They don't change you. It's your response to those events that really define you. I derive a lot of my mental resilience through accepting things as they are, right? Not looking more into them, not thinking less of them. They are simply events that happen in my life. And the only thing that I could control is how I respond to them. And I'm not always perfect at it. There are always those moments where you're like, damn it, why did my tire break today? But I truly strive to essentially keep that as my underlying premise with everything that I do.


And again, I'm not perfect at it, but I think as a male, we very much generalize, but the A-type personalities that I know, if you start getting yourself in a pity mindset, like it's very damaging, it's very toxic. And I think a lot of people get sucked into that. It's not healthy. But the minute you can turn bad things into good things, the minute that you can turn the struggles into a learning experience is when you can truly just empower yourself. And we see this in F-16 training and any fighter pilot training, we have a brief and a debrief. And when you go fly for an hour and a half doing some kind of tactical sortie, you'll come back, and you may debrief for four hours. You'll sit there for four hours, and you'll talk about every little thing that you did wrong. And most of the time we don't have time to sit here and talk about the things that you did well, because there's not enough time in the world. There's not enough energy. And frankly, it doesn't matter to me because what I need to improve are the things that I can improve.


So when I look at all of these events that have happened in my life and the way that I deal with them day to day, I look at them as ways to improve my own mental resiliency. I look at them as ways to improve as a person and use them to kind of just empower my life. So that's kind of like my mindset when it comes to these things. And obviously cancer was a lot harder to deal with in the moment. But when I had the doctors backing me up, helping me through that, it became a lot easier to look at things objectively and be like, all right, man, what's the next step? Cool. I guess I have a giant scar on my stomach. That's pretty cool. Like, wow. Like fricking Liam Neeson and some kind of Jason Bourne film or something. I don't know.


JOYCE: Well, I think for you, the articles I've read about you and your testicular cancer are one way of giving back, because you tell your story and you're comfortable doing that and making sure people understand it. And not everyone can do that. And I also just want to thank the writer for the article from the Moffitt magazine, whom I contacted to try to connect with you, she was gracious enough to do that. But I know you've done some other things to raise awareness about cancer and other things in life, I guess. Tell us about that.


CHUCK: Raising awareness, it's been tough lately to find ways to raise awareness. I've tried to participate in Movember. This was a while ago. There's a charity group that helps out with that, and you can provide funds if you can raise them. For me, it's been helping people get to the military. As I said, I always have a little bit of survivor guilt when it comes to testicular cancer stuff. I am definitely a perpetrator of this, but I always belittle my experience and I know I do it. I know I do it. So when I went to Moffitt, I felt totally not credible to get up and talk about veterans and cancer because I was, I was in for two, three months cancer treatment, and then I was out and then I was good to go. 


And I was in remission, and I didn't have any other issues, you know, other than the hormones and things like that. But I think that survivor guilt and that type of stuff makes it difficult for me to help people through testicular cancer. I've definitely had a lot of people reach out and I usually tell people to check themselves, but I've had a few people reach out and ask questions like, hey man, I'm having this issue. And most of the time, our response is go to the fricking doctor. I am not a doctor. I can't help you, man. But this is what I felt, and it sounds like it might be something similar. I have one friend, Matthew, and he changed his last name, and I'll leave it at Matthew. But he ended up finding out he had testicular cancer and something that he wouldn't have even thought about or checked. And he messaged me the other day. He's like, I’ve got to say thank you, man. I'm like, what do you mean? He's like, I just got done with orchiectomy, and they had found cancer. And dude, he's like, I wouldn't have checked myself if it weren’t for you. I would have never thought anything about it.


And I think that's just by simply talking about it is very helpful because a lot of males are very sensitive down there and they will not believe that anything is going on until it is way too late. And I remember saying that to some of the doctors, and I was like, dude, if I wasn't in the military, there's no way I went to the doctor. I didn't have health care. I was an 18, 19-year-old kid, which I didn't understand. I came from a pretty, I don't want to say a poor family, but I grew up in a trailer, and I didn't go to the doctor. That's just not what I did. It probably would have taken me serious pain, probably coughing up blood or something crazy in order for me to go to the ER and then realize something was wrong. And by that time, it could have been too late.


So I talk about it a lot. I try to bring it up when I meet people. I hope it's an example of, hey, man, even if something happens to you, you can handle it, especially with testicular cancer. But a lot of what I do is actually helping people fly. There's a nonprofit I volunteer for and help out with where we strive to diversify and get kids into the aviation related career fields. So flying helicopters, fixed wing, whatever. A lot of that is what I'm truly passionate about. But that's a lot of where I give back now. I've participated in speeches with CAP, Civil Air Patrol.


JOYCE: I didn't know that kind of organization existed. I think that's wonderful to educate people about careers in aviation or the Air Force. And that one guy that contacted you, you saved a life right there by just talking to him. And he realized what he had to do and found out he had testicular cancer.


CHUCK: Yeah. much a progressive, like you're always progressing. Like that's just how we are. You're always at the next rank. You're always looking for the next jobs and opportunities. And I have sought a lot of immersion type positions where I bring people in and check out the squatter and I show them the jet, show them what it's like to be a fighter pilot. And I try to get people invested in that because that's, I'm very much passionate about that. So a lot of those opportunities coming up, I'm applying for a job. We'll see what happens with that, but it's the Aviation Inspiration Mentorship Director. And essentially our wing or our base provides funds for us to go and talk to high school kids or people from around the local area and try to inspire people to pursue aviation related careers and flying jobs in the Air Force. If I get that job, I would totally abuse it and use it for other things too, like to stick your cancer awareness.


JOYCE: Well, you know, that would be the time to do it, Chuck, if you could combine raising awareness about testicular cancer and flying careers. That's  the target audience, most likely. So my last question is, what song, when you hear it, do you have to sing along?


CHUCK: Oh man, I saw that question. I was like, dude, I don't even know how to answer this. You know what song I've actually been really into lately? It's ‘Something in the Orange.’ It's, you know, I was never really into  country and it's more folky than country, but, and I love that song. It's a good song. And believe it or not, I was actually in a metal band growing up. I used to have hair down to my shoulders and gauges in my ears, man. I was, I was a little rumpus kid.


JOYCE: Well, you know, my stepson is in a band and I'm a big Beatles fan. So those are the songs I like to hear when I think of favorite music. What did you play in your band?


CHUCK: Oh, that was the coolest. I loved it. I played electric guitar. Yeah. Yeah, I loved it. I loved it.


JOYCE: Well, keep going on the guitar, right? Have fun with it. But you know, that's really all I have for our podcast. So I appreciate your time, Chuck, and being so open and sharing what you have gone through and showing more about your career as an F-16 pilot. So I hope you can come back in a year or more and just tell us what's going on and about life and health and flying. So thank you.


CHUCK: Absolutely, Joyce. Thanks for having me.


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