The PMC Podcast

Caring For Our Heroes

June 18, 2020 Kristin Sundin Brandt and Bill Alfano Season 1 Episode 8
The PMC Podcast
Caring For Our Heroes
Chapters
The PMC Podcast
Caring For Our Heroes
Jun 18, 2020 Season 1 Episode 8
Kristin Sundin Brandt and Bill Alfano

According to Oncolink.org, there are approximately 40,000 new cancer cases reported in Veterans each year, with many of these cases caused by exposure to chemicals and other carcinogens on bases or the field of battle. Iraq War Veteran, Purple Heart recipient, and advocate for veterans, Kurt Power, joins The PMC Podcast to talk about the risk to veterans, and our responsibility to ensure America's heroes receive the cancer testing and treatment they need and deserve.


https://www.oncolink.org/risk-and-prevention/environmental-and-occupational-exposures-uv-exposure-radon-radiation/veterans-military-service-and-cancer-risk

Support the show (https://donate.pmc.org/)

Show Notes Transcript

According to Oncolink.org, there are approximately 40,000 new cancer cases reported in Veterans each year, with many of these cases caused by exposure to chemicals and other carcinogens on bases or the field of battle. Iraq War Veteran, Purple Heart recipient, and advocate for veterans, Kurt Power, joins The PMC Podcast to talk about the risk to veterans, and our responsibility to ensure America's heroes receive the cancer testing and treatment they need and deserve.


https://www.oncolink.org/risk-and-prevention/environmental-and-occupational-exposures-uv-exposure-radon-radiation/veterans-military-service-and-cancer-risk

Support the show (https://donate.pmc.org/)

Announcer :

This is The PMC Podcast with Kristin Brandy and Bill Alfano, the Pan-Mass Challenge, raising money for life saving cancer research and treatment that Dana-Farber Cancer Institute. Now here's Kristin Brandt and Bill Alfano,

Kristin Brandt :

you're listening to The PMC Podcast. This is Kristin Brandt I am here with my co host and the executive editor I should say you get not enough credit for all the editing you have to do Bill Alfano,

Bill Alfano :

I get you know, there's a pay level for each of the hats I wear during this process. They're all equal. They're all equal

Kristin Brandt :

we added this to your card.

Bill Alfano :

I should I cards long enough Director of Marketing and Strategic P artnerships.

Kristin Brandt :

It should fold it could be

Bill Alfano :

an accordion. Yes. What were those things when you were a kid used to do the finger thing and was

Kristin Brandt :

lucky they were like a fortune teller. Yeah, yeah, they still do them.

Bill Alfano :

No, those are great.

Kristin Brandt :

That is a good thing about childhood that we have not lost. That's good. All right. So what are we doing today?

Bill Alfano :

Today's guest Kurt Power. He is an Iraq War veteran. He's a Purple Heart recipient. He served in Iraq in Ramadi, in some of the most intense fighting, he was there 2005 2006 he was shot in the chest by a sniper. There's a lot here but Kurt is very active in the community back home when it comes to veterans suicide prevention and other causes. And so we wanted to bring him in and talk about cancer and the role cancer plays in the veteran community, even active duty community. So I reached out to him he doesn't have a direct PMC connection other than Red Sox Foundation. We all kind of know each other through the Red Sox Foundation. He's a big fan of the PMC. I'm a big fan of him in what he does. And I thought it'd be a really interesting interview, as we're recording this intro after the interview, Kristin, is it okay if I say he's a really interesting interview?

Kristin Brandt :

I would say he's an another. He's an astounding person. Yes, no. And I have to say, you know, I've done podcasting for a long time. The interviews that we've had to do through this podcast are unlike any I've ever done, the level of commitment and I just remain in

Bill Alfano :

and strength Some of the people we've taled to,

Kristin Brandt :

I really either have chills or I'm in tears or so it's, you know, they're all everyone's been extraordinary. But this interview in particular was just very powerful really got me thinking. We do want to give a little bit of a listener warning that there are some mature themes in this one.

Bill Alfano :

He did not hold back. He

Kristin Brandt :

You know, he really didn't We're talking about war. We're talking about death. We're talking about the long term health impacts on our soldiers. I don't think we want to take any more away from it. But I did want to make sure we wanted to make sure everyone has that warning. So if you have little ears around, you might want to wait and listen to this later. Okay, we are here with Kurt Power. Thank you so much for joining us, Kurt.

Kurt Power :

It's a real pleasure to be here. Thank you for having me.

Kristin Brandt :

So let's start with just having you introduce yourself, who are you and what do you do?

Kurt Power :

I'm a regular guy that has the opportunity to serve his country overseas, continue to serve my community after the war. Honestly, just a true believer as a whole.

Kristin Brandt :

Are you active service now? Are you serving now or you

Kurt Power :

I joined the military after 9/11 And I actually got out after getting shot by a sniper overseas fighting on the ground of Ramadi in 2005, and 2006.

Kristin Brandt :

Oh, my goodness. Wow.

Bill Alfano :

Let me just let me just read this Kristin. And because little I know Kurt what I've heard already he's, he's not gonna, it's not gonna talk about himself too much

Kristin Brandt :

we're gonna have to like pull up.

Bill Alfano :

I have a feeling we're gonna get a lot of great information from them when he gets to talk about everybody else but himself. So let me I'll just read this, Kurt Power in Iraq War veteran Purple Heart recipient and Military Order of the Purple Heart State service officer for the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, this patriotic American. He joined the US Army after 9/11 to do as part of defending his country in the war on terror Power fought some of the heaviest combat of the war in Ramadi, Iraq, in 2005 and 2006, where he served as a vigilant hunter conducting military operations on urban terrain to hunt high level al Qaeda al Qaeda operatives. Despite frequent firefight surviving multiple IED blasts taking heavy casualties and being shot in the chest by a sniper while on a reconnaissance mission in 2005 Power still says the hardest part of war was coming home, though hard work work and perseverance, Power was fortunate enough to make a successful transition transition back to the civilian world but continues to help fight for veteran in crisis everywhere and hopes one day to end veteran suicide epidemic. Kurt, I, you know, thank you for your service isn't enough, but I will say it and I mean it reading your bio reading that information about you, is incredible. So we're really lucky to have you on today. I know, you do like to position yourself as a regular guy, not many regular guys, I know have all those things in a bio. So I'll leave it at that because I know accolades are not what you're looking for. But I personally appreciate what you've done for this country and for me and my freedom. So thank you very much.

Kurt Power :

Thank you. I really appreciate that.

Kristin Brandt :

Yeah, I know I will just say what he said because that I would not go with just a regular guy. But I do appreciate everything you've done in our service, your service to our country. So let's talk about what you're doing now.

Kurt Power :

Okay, so post military, I am now a police officer and on the job about 12 years with the Transit Police, and I've been in the youth violence strike force, which is the Boston Police gang unit for the last four plus years.

Kristin Brandt :

wow, and when did you get involved with the PMC

Kurt Power :

the connection through PMC is, is pretty great because it's total greater good stuff with the red sox foundation being like the actual sponsor. I've been doing work with the Red Sox Foundation, volunteering over there for years, I went through the home base program and have done what I can to pay forward by helping other veterans in crisis.

Bill Alfano :

I believe Kurt and I met was it at a Red Sox Foundation was a scholars event. Is that what it was? I

Kurt Power :

you know, what was it they I think, was it the scholars or was it Fenway honors?

Bill Alfano :

Fenway Honors, you're 100%. Right. And we just kind of struck up a conversation Kristin and I really admired his work and the organizations he works with, we started talking about PMC and we've kind of stayed in touch so there's not a true direct connection. This was much more about just two organizations or various organizations trying to do really good and make an impact. Kurt has some continues to have some real kind words but also support for what the PMC does. So the connectivity isn't isn't maybe as direct as some of the other guests we have on but from a action standpoint and a doing good standpoint, we thought it was really valuable to get together on this and kind of talk about cancer and veterans and the Dana-Farber and then branch off kind of into the PMC role and things like that. So setting the stage a little bit, you know, I did some looking up beforehand, you know, I'm seeing a minimum 40,000 veterans a year are getting diagnosed with cancer, at least through the VA. And I'm sure that number is conservative based on if you're a veteran and your diagnosis isn't through the VA, it could be somewhere else that it might not be accounted for. So I'll leave that there. Kurt, I don't know if you want to jump in and kind of talk about the role cancer diagnosis plays both the active duty members as well as you know, people who have been honorably discharged. And you know, I'm reading that 20 years later from a lot of active duty is when these diagnosis are taking place.

Kurt Power :

First of all, I think all the work that you're doing with the PMS challenge is amazing. Super inspirational stuff. Lisa Hughes has been a big platform for it, and a lot of us have been privy to it as a result. So it's definitely on my bucket list for sure. I think actually, one of the biggest issues we have right now in the veteran community is cancer. I have a personal connection. Because not only did my father in law die of prostate cancer A few years ago, but on you know not to drop it on you guys but you know it ties in because I'm one of the guys I fought with in Iraq, you know, he actually is terminally ill with colon cancer, and it's been attributed to burn pits. So what we're seeing is, listen, like none of us were ever wary to die overseas. I mean, I hit up the side of my chest blown out and I was on the operating table. And, you know, I had no regrets knowing that I was probably going to die for my country. But there's nothing more heartbreaking and we're seeing on a regular basis, our veterans serving our country and surviving and then dying back home, because of you know, what they've been exposed to overseas. It's just you know, it's heartbreaking to see, you know, this kids, a warrior fought in Iraq, fought in Afghanistan, sniper Purple Heart, bronze star recipient, what we had been through in Ramadi, in 2005, and 2006. And then what he had been through in Afghanistan, after where we lost some more of our friends. It's absolutely heartbreaking to know that he received a call from the VA about basically Hey, we're sorry to tell you, you have stage four colon cancer, and best case scenario three years to live. That was three years ago. That was three years ago, and he's terminal is continuing to fight. But it's absolutely so heartbreaking for all of us to know that, like so many American heroes that have given so much for our country, then are dying from the disease that has already taken so much from families around the world. It's just no one knows. You know? No One No One family hasn't been impacted by cancer for it to hit our family, the veteran community as hard as it is not only Yeah, is it horrific, but I can tell you that it's, you know, it scares everyone because we know that 87% of veterans in Iraq and Afghanistan have been exposed to these burn pits. You know, it really it's like a game of survivor where you know, who's next, who's next. Once again, it I felt it was easier to lose, you know, men & women overseas than to lose them at home because of potential exposures. This is this is really the biggest concern we have right now in the veteran community is not only getting men and women screened sooner, getting them the best care possible. And we all know that absolutely. is at Dana-Farber. He actually he actually drives down on a regular basis from Vermont, and that's where he is going through dialysis. I don't think for a minute you know if it wasn't for the life saving care there that he would be as long as he would be alive. As long as he is, you know, not only am I thankful for that, I think it's something that, you know, many veterans and many leaders in the veteran community really just think this is going to be our generations Agent Orange, and that this is really just the tip of the spear that we all bonded together to fight terrorism. But now, we need all hands on deck to work together to fight cancer. And I think, you know, not only is it amazing, like all the funds and awareness that you raise to the Pan-Mass Challenge, but I think essentially breaching a topic that is so painful for every family, everyone knows, and kind of presenting it with this positive energy, I think is unbelievable. And I think that's why all of us want to be a part of it, to know you're doing what you can to try and make a difference on any level. Once again, when I'd seen like the formal check presentation for this last year, I was absolutely blown away about it. how unbelievably successful this program has been.

Kristin Brandt :

Let's take a step back, I want to talk about what are some of the, let's say unique challenges for former military and active military who received a cancer diagnosis.

Kurt Power :

I think the most unique thing really is that in a lot of occupations, you can potentially keep doing your job, right? Like we're all true believers. It's an all volunteer military we've all, you know, signed up to fight to think that, you know, we could take such a major part of our team out of the game, even if things go successfully, right, like even if they are survivor treatment is so absolutely taxing, you know, majority of the time, we can't expect them to fight a war on two fronts, right, like internally and externally.

Kristin Brandt :

And how about access to care? I mean, how what are some of the challenges how to, how do they work with the VA versus working with Dana-Farber. Like, what are some of the challenges we have?

Kurt Power :

I think there's a lot of challenges on our end, because not only is there like a macho mentality a lot of times in the military, like, Hey, I don't need to go to the doctors, I don't need to get screened, I don't need to get checked. And that's why this is so important. From an awareness standpoint. Dana-Farber is the gold standard, as far as any of us are concerned for cancer care, I do think that is, you know, the VA is making strides by the day. But when it comes to something like this, like we believe in deferring to the subject matter experts, and I think that's important.

Bill Alfano :

So Kurt, I was just looking this up is first of all, I was trying to find a word to not use heartbreaking because you used it and I couldn't come up with one, you know, chilling kind of also in a whole nother sense. So I was just reading something it's on onco onco link, it's an oncology site and it talks specifically, I think it really sums it up it you know, it says as the veteran population continues to age this number will continue to rise. This is an unexpected risk of military service a soldier likely doesn't think about his or her risk of developing a life threatening cancer 20 years later, as a result of exposure to chemicals or radiation, and it goes on to say, really it started in World War One with nitrogen and sulfur mustard and then World War Two with radiation bad and then it just went forward and talks with you said, it mentions Vietnam and Agent Orange. And then it brings up the Gulf War talks about higher risk of lung and brain cancers in particular, as a result of nerve gas smoke from burning oil wells, pesticides, etc. For someone who didn't serve, can you just maybe give a little explanation of a burn pit the term itself that it would be great to kind of I think I know what it is, but there's nothing worse than thinking you know what something is and then being completely wrong.

Kurt Power :

Sure. You know, I think it's so hard For a lot of us that think that we might not make it home when fighting terrorism, and that's all right, we believe in the greater good, we're there to make a difference. But you know, there's nothing more tragic than then coming home to find out essentially that you were killed overseas and you didn't even know it by the chemicals you were exposed to with the burn pits over there. And essentially, what burn pits are, are they're these giant piles of trash acres upon acres of like, you know, military equipment and trash and human waste and covered in diesel and jet fuel, which are known cancer causing agents, essentially, they're burned in place because you know, it's stuff that we take for granted back in the United States. But you have to get rid of that stuff over there somehow releasing it in the atmosphere. We're all breathing it in was never a huge priority. When I was kicking doors overseas or we were shooting it out thinking about how clean the air was. We were breathing but Now that we're home getting older, it's a, it's a huge concern. It's that much scarier knowing that essentially like it's the enemy that you can't see, and that a lot of our battle buddies realize that they've been exposed after it's too late. Once again, these football sized flaming trash dumps releasing chemicals in the air. Well, 87% of us fighting in Iraq, in Afghanistan, just trying to make a difference and hopefully make it home are being exposed to this in the process, not just our veterans overseas from chemicals that have been used for generations on military installations. We're seeing huge spikes lately in cancer diagnosis, Air Force bases, specifically some of the chemicals that have been used in previous generations and they're still inhabiting those areas and it's, it's heartbreaking. It's painful to see that as tough as cancer is anyone could get it and there's so many types that A lot of the cancer we're seeing, you know, from Vietnam to now could essentially on some level have been avoided, right? Like, life is tough, and it can be unpredictable. But you'd never want to think that because we weren't careful with the chemicals we're utilizing, or the waste that we're getting rid of that we could ever accidentally kill an American hero. You know, we don't know enough about it at this point. But we know we have to do more to keep like the brave men and women who fight for our country safe.

Kristin Brandt :

So one article I was reading said that the VA established a voluntary burn pit registry and that 180,000 people have signed up for it, just to give us some perspective on this piece of it. And as you said, there's chemicals that have been used for generation, you know, for years that, that maybe we're not using in a residential, you know, because we've acknowledged that they're problematic that it sounds like you're still using on the bases. It also reminds me a bit of a bit totally When Jon Stewart testified to the Senate about the brave officers that ran into the building during 9/11, and now have all these cancers, diagnosis ease, they're dying of cancer and the funding for it. So I guess my question is, you know, I don't want to pick on the VA I know it has its challenges, but how do we address or how is it being addressed the funding for treatment or our soldiers being treated because something I'm reading thing that like the victims aren't necessarily being accepted is that their cancer is related to these burn pits?

Kurt Power :

I think a lot of us feel betrayed.

Sundin Sports Marketing (sponsor) :

The PMC Podcast is supported by Sundin Sports Marketing, putting your ideas into action at Sundin sports.com.

Kurt Power :

betrayed because if an American hero gets cancer because our country was negligent when they were fighting overseas. And we're definitely seeing that in a lot of cases, not only should we own it, but we should make sure that they get the best care available. I think modern day a lot of times what we're seeing is more trying to sidestep from a liability standpoint, as opposed to step up and saying, This is on us. And we'll do what we can to make a difference. I think that a lot of us are feeling that we're getting a runaround from not only the government, but the VA as far as what applies. What does it disclosing the the actual true numbers that essentially they were the ones that hired these independent contractors to properly dispose of these materials and a lot of a lot of times there were incinerators. We know it's out there in place to properly dispose of these and they just were not used. It's absolute negligence, it's killing heroes, and there's no legal recourse whatsoever. And that is really the tip of the spear right now. People like like my buddy Wesley are fighting. He basically said to me recently, if before I die, if I can just make you know the difference for one family that doesn't have to go through this, right, you know, his family, watching him die and knowing it's the case and knowing that the government is not going to take accountability. All we want is them to admit what they've done and help these veterans get the care they deserve. Period. I don't it's too much to ask.

Bill Alfano :

It's gut wrenching to hear this. It is. You know, the frustration level in me right now is it's almost to the point of not professional. How do we possibly treat our veterans like this, like The fact that you said I'm willing to die I was willing to die and so we're so many other heroes that men and women who enlist and serve willing to die on the battlefield for what I believe in it for my country. And then to come home and be treated well to find out years later that man, this avoidable thing is now going to take my life it's still I'm still on the battlefield is basically what you said. And it is, you know, my hair standing up on my arm on that one, because that just brought it it made it so real and it's so true. You know, it reminds me of I don't know if you know him at all, but uh, Drew Wallace from the Boston Fire Department he they have a big team that rides in the PMC Boston Fire Department does. Kristin kind of did the comparison so I'm going to do it too, and I don't, I hope there's no disrespect with that comparison. Most of those guys are all Veterans actually also and they are now firemen. But you know, they started a fund at Dana-Farber about this because they're seeing such increased rates of cancer diagnosis because of what they're breathing in the equipment they have things like that. It is a again, a group of people forget that they're even veterans at one point that is enough that they should be taken care of. But they're firemen now, right? I mean, they're running into fires, right? That's always the thing you say about firemen. They were the fire men and women, right? They run into fires to save lives, save property, things like that, that sacrifice that they don't ask for anything for, but that sacrifice that they do on our behalf, you know, then they get this diagnosis. And it's like, well, you got to go through the norm. Like just like everybody else. There's no responsibility as you said, or extra care being given. Man, I mean, you know, so they went to Dana-Farber and said, Can you guys take on this study? For us? We'll fund it. We'll ride we'll fund it. But can you do we need someone to look at this not just for the Boston Fire Department, but for firemen everywhere. And fire women, I should say, too. It's amazing that that has to be handled like that.

Kurt Power :

And that's it, right? I always say like, man, like we didn't need the government support. When we were laying down rounds, right? We did. We didn't need their support. When we were kicking doors and high level targets. We did it because it's the right thing to do. And nobody owes us anything. We had the honor to serve. But if they want to support the troops, they say they can support them by doing what they can to give them the care they need, based off of the mistakes that they made. Right. Like, we were all there. We did our job because they didn't by putting proper safety measures in place. These men and women are dying. So the least they can do is make sure that they get proper care opposed to spending their time doing damage control. Because you know what, like, what's the damage control on our end losing battle buddies? What's and American Heroes life worth? Well, we know that not only they've given so much but to give that much more and then to have the people that should have our back the most turn their back on us is unacceptable is unacceptable once again, you know our view was terrorism and our mission. Now more than ever, is cancer if you survive Iraq and Afghanistan and died because you were given inferior medical care and subjected to unacceptable conditions overseas. Well, I don't know what to tell you, except for the fact that they're more concerned about covering down for their buddies that they put in place contractually, and making sure they're not liable for this once again, yeah, we don't want anything. We don't need anything. But, you know, how do you tell an American hero like my buddy? Wesley that, you know won't see next year? Yes, sorry. We know this is the case. But um, you know, there's no there's no recourse. Thank you for your service, you know, you're not going to make it. And if we had caught this sooner, when he was complaining about it for years to the VA, there's about a 90% chance he would have survived based off the fact they believe that they probably if they had just given him a colonoscopy, when he had asked years before, they think they could have caught it in stage one.

Bill Alfano :

That's that is that's brutal.

Kristin Brandt :

That is that's a gut punch. So let's let's talk about what we can Do the first thing is how do we get these tests done? And I don't I don't know if you know the answer. I don't know the answer, like how do we how do we get to that next step so that when someone needs the test, they get it.

Kurt Power :

I think that we need to highlight these stories more. We need to spread awareness about how significant of a threat This is. right in that, that's talking to these men and women that have been in this position that hopefully can get through to the rest of us before it's too late. Our health isn't always a priority, especially when we come home. Definitely not in this case. I mean, I can't I can't tell you a veteran that I fought with overseas like that didn't that didn't spend their existence postwar, defecating blood on a regular basis. It's sad, but it's true. I had I had the conversation with a few other officers the other day, who had fought On the ground in the same era, and Oh Yeah, me too. Me too. Me too, right but we all say right, it's suck it up and drive on. We all come home like, you know, I was in the same boat and you know what in that direction and got the runaround with the VA, which is like, Listen, I don't want anything from anyone. I'm happy to be alive, still have a eleven pieces of shrapnel lodged in my chest. You know, I'd like to know if I'm going to die of cancer. I have blood every time I go to the restroom and like that we just all accept it's the norm like You know what? I should have died when I got shot in '05 I didn't This is all a bonus. They don't really care. And you know we've been through worse what they will do, which we see like well, they'll they'll throw a percentage at rating wise and and that was the same thing. You know that my buddy had said, you know, it's kind of like misdiagnosis. Okay, well like IBS. He was saying you know, I don't want to rating like We don't want money. We just want proper medical care. And I think our voice needs to be heard now and moving forward, that, you know, you can't just throw money at the problem, especially when you're talking about heroes lives. Not only do we need to be more aware of this, but at risk populations need to be screened sooner. Right, that by the time they're coming of age to be screened a lot of times based off of what they've been exposed to, it's already too late. You know, I don't think it's unreasonable to think that you know, when men and women come home from fighting that, you know, they're given proper cancer screenings because of what they've been exposed to overseas.

Bill Alfano :

I'm assuming this also is almost the same mindset Kurt, as you know, what you've taken on with veteran suicide. It's also that mindset of First of all, to know that it's there that there's there's this is going on when you come back from overseas, and I'm really I'm really treading on a topic I don't know much about to correct me if I hit something wrong.

Kurt Power :

All fair game.

Bill Alfano :

Yeah, you know, you know, you don't know you don't know that you come back from overseas and you're happy to be alive if you're not feeling right whether it be mentally or physically on a certain day or even a week's time months time you're almost chalking it up to this is my new normal right? And you don't necessarily seek out help and when you do if the doctor says to you, oh, you're too young for that screening, or you Oh, you don't need to see a psychiatrist or whatever it is, you're probably like, man, I can't believe that I thought I needed this extra care and what i what i have read and feel good about this awareness whether it is on the mental health side or the physical health side is a big part of the Battle of getting people to feel like you know, it's okay that I don't feel right and I want to get checked out and I want to I deserve to be checked out and to feel better if I can feel better Am I am I close on this?

Kurt Power :

Listen, like spot on Bill, right and that's, that's the reality of it which is, you know, I always say like if we can get, you know, I can get a veteran in crisis they do on a regular basis through the doors at home base, right, like I know, there's a good chance we can save their lives. Well, I know if we can get a veteran that's been exposed to this through the door at Dana-Farber, that we can hopefully give them a fighting chance before it's too late. And I think that the problem with lack of care on our end post war, you know, for generations, you know, people can say whatever they want, but like, we've all had bad experiences with the VA. So, you know, what, we think, lets us you know what, let's let it ride because what I'd rather do is just die of whatever, I'm going to die and then go in there and be disrespected again, and talk down to it and really like to reinforce the fact that like, we're expendable. I'm not a guy that actually talks about that. But, you know, the last thing I ever wanted to do was go back into the VA after what I had seen and I'll give you like a quick thirty-second story but to give the background on that I come home once again. I when I get shot or refused by medivac out of country, everyone knows, I continue to fight for eight more months of the hole my chest, they legitimately say like, you're going to die. There's no granulation you need skin grafts. It's going to it's going to get infected, you're going to die. That era Ramadi '05 '06 was that bad. I didn't get deployed. I volunteered I jumped in with another unit to fight on the ground. guys were getting killed and I wasn't going to let them die alone. I never wanted anything. I didn't go to Germany. I didn't go to Walter Reed. They I had refused my medivac out. You cannot do that. I did it anyways, and I have no regrets. But when I came back to the VA, I said, Hey, I think I still have some metal in my chest. They said Oh, no new dismissive. I said Listen, I don't want anything. them easy guy. I just thought if I could get a chest X ray doctor was really rude, really dismissive. And then gives me a chest X ray. Still this day, my entire chest is full of shrapnel, I've 11 pieces of shrapnel, the inside of my chest looks like a snow globe. I said to the doctor this over the VA, and nobody knows this, because I'm not that guy that never goes public with this stuff. I said, Hey, Doc, I'm an easy guy. I'm just happy to be alive. But I know it's predominantly LEAD, is this going to be an issue? And he said, we'll tackle that obstacle, we get to it and walked out of the room. And I promise you and this was over JP, I call my wife and I said, I'm the easiest guy in the world. And I called her and I said I just like I cried on the phone and I said, I just found out my entire chest is full of shrapnel. The medical diagnosis was we'll tackle that obstacle when we get to it. The doctor seemed pissed off because I inconvenience him because I had to get a chest X ray to even prove it. And the only reason I knew is because A piece of shrapnel was working its way out of my chest here. So when I was passing blood for years and years and years, all of us, right, like, I'm gonna be honest, like we all do that I want to go into the VA that didn't care about my gunshot wound and then tell them hey, yeah, like, Well, you know, I'm just s*&**&*g blood on a regular basis, just like these other guys. I don't want anything. But I'd like to know that I'm not dying here. And I also know I tell everyone like, yeah, you had an issue, like most of us do, like no, go to the subject matter experts go to where you'll actually, you know, not only get proper care, but be treated like a human being. And I think that a lot of the stuff that we're seeing is smoke and mirrors. It's all right. Once again, like all of us there over there, like we don't want anything. We're all just trying to process the fact that, you know, we made it with better men and women than us didn't, right, like, happy to serve wouldn't change anything. Yeah, if you're having these problems like not only do you need to checked like, you need to get checked at the best possible place. And that's Dana-Farber. And that's, um, fortunately for all of us out here, it's right in our backyard. We are very lucky

Kristin Brandt :

Yeah, I was gonna say I find this so infuriating. I mean, first of all, you know, that wasn't the deal. Right? The deal was you serve our country. And the deal is our country takes care of you and is you're talking about the lead shrapnel. I remember an article I read months ago about how you know, survivors of bullet wounds also have a side effect of lead poisoning because of all the lead in your body. So it's not just cancer risk that you're at, but you're at a risk for lead poisoning, which we know has all sorts of problems. So what can we I just want to yell at somebody. So I am not an easygoing person. I am a mama bear. Um, who do I yell at? Right? Do I yell at my senator? Do I yell about Like, who do what what can we do? I know you said like, we can't just throw money at it. Which is probably Partially an inclination I think a lot of us have, right? Like, where can we donate? Where can we do I call Elizabeth Warren? Do I say like, what are we doing? What's the plan?

Kurt Power :

I'm telling you, it goes so deep, and I know some pretty inner circle stuff on this. It's not even like a Dem thing. It's not a republican thing. Like No, no, it's definitely like they're all yell at all of us. That's it, right? Like they're all cooking the books on it, because once again, they're looking at liability. And numbers, right? instead of like, No, these are human beings with lives and families, that it's once again like stepped up to serve, you know, if you could not look at it like a math problem for once and look at it as it's an honor to be able to save the lives of any hero that was willing to give their life for all of us. And I think that's the important thing. And until once again, like we get these stories out there and highlight this more, I think it's going to be a numbers thing. Right until we can actually make a difference by hammering the point home like, Look, this is Wes is like 34, right like, decorated war hero this guy is gonna make next year because of this, like there needs to be there needs to be a face to this there needs to be awareness and I think that's where I really in the future to hope for more of a partnership with Pan- Mass Challenge because, um you know not only is there credibility with all of you, but you know you have a voice when I'm gonna be honest, like I feel like we don't feel like we do. We don't I mean that it's easy to drown out the veteran community. We have to start looking at this. Like I said, like, no, this isn't, you know, this isn't any particular demographic like look at everything that's going on like no like anybody can be affected by cancer. Anyone can die of cancer. There still is not a cure. We need to do everything we can to make a difference. The best way to support an American hero to thank them for their service is when they do run into something like this when they are fighting for their life, and they have cancer, to do what you can to make sure they make it out the other side or have the best chance possible, of trying to survive after already fighting and surviving so much for all of us to live in the greatest country in the world. It's tough to think but it's it's real.

Bill Alfano :

I hope you know, from the PMC side curve Kurt i mean it's it's it's open arms. I don't know I don't need to tell you that but welcoming in riders volunteers. People just have conversations like this about I mean, you hit it on the head it cancer is indiscriminate. They can care less if you have an elephant or donkey if you're black or white. If you're a man or a woman age But I think we all feel strongly that care is what it's all about proper care, proper treatment. You know, it's one of the reasons I made the move from for profit to nonprofit was that PMC passes along 100% of its rider money, raise money directly at Dana-Farber, which is an institute. You know, I'm not I'm not a doctor, but you know, it's an institute that I have the utmost confidence in not just from a treatment side, but every time you talk to Dana-Farber, people, they talk about how it starts with the first valet you meet the day you show up there, and it goes right through to give patients all patients the utmost respect, and try to pass along as much hope as possible, even through uncomfortable conversations and and many outcomes that aren't what the person want, but that way of, you know, treat how people are treated, whether they're a war hero, like yourself or like Wesley, who you mentioned a few times, which obviously we give our best to, you know, to just little Susie, who's four years old and gets diagnosed with just the terrible form of cancer in pediatric oncology, you know, to have that respect. And then to go one step further, you know, if the person's protected us, is a war hero. Man, you would think that's the bottom rung for the care that someone should in respect, someone should be given

Kristin Brandt :

to your point, I think, making sure we we know because you guys are quiet, and you're tough and you're strong. And it's just to your point, you're all sitting around, talking about, you know, your bowel movements and, like, as normal as that would horrify me, making sure that we know you know, so that we can help amplify those voices that we can help share those stories so that we can and you know, at the end of the day beyond them numbers game, it is numbers but to flip that number, I'm a parent of a 17 year old. And we've been talking about college military. I'm going to tell you when I thought about him joining the military, higher risk of cancer was never something I worried about, right? Like course I would worry about his safety and whether or not you know, it would be the right choice for him and whether he would make it home but I certainly never thought and will 30 years from now, he die of cancer, not something that I think any of us I thought about, and certainly something that if more of us thought about then our all volunteer military would really would start to suffer I think, right, because certain it shouldn't be a life sentence right? To defend our country and to defend our freedoms. So I think

Bill Alfano :

the crazy part Kristin is these people, you know, they're willing to take that risk. Risk right they're willing to take it volunteer to take that risk. It's just about like okay, if there is a first of all to get into the negligence that part it's hard to just bypass it because that's such a huge role right? The the what happens there and chemicals used and well I'm trying to skip over that which is kind of silly of me right because it's such a big role so let you know when they get back when people get back that that lifetime on the battlefield analogy is really stuck with me about there's there's still the same person man or woman who went and served overseas or maybe didn't go overseas. To Kurt's point maybe they were in the US the whole time but still protecting us right? How that care is not does not carry with them through their life. Just like everything they did carries with them through their life. It seems almost too simple. I mean, I hope this conversation opens some eyes. I know how much I wanted to have it. I hope the PMC community listens to this. And it has it has the same that resonates with them the same way. I, you know, this is the first time I've kind of been at a loss for words in any of these interviews, and I'm not over playing it.

Kurt Power :

Well, and I think I'd love to see more veterans get involved with a Pan-Mass Challenge. I know, I'd be honored to ride with any of them. I always say, you know, people know about 3% what I actually do in the veteran community, and I like it that way, right? But not only do we have an obligation to do what we can to make the world a better place for the men and women that didn't make it home. But I always say like, especially with what we're dealing with, from a PTSD and TBI standpoint, and positive energy is contagious, right? So not only having the gratification and knowing that you're going out to make a difference with something like this, but being surrounded by so Many positive people at an event like the Pan-Mass challenge, I think can change your outlook entirely, not only on the world, but for a lot of our heroes post war, you have a tendency to see the world in a negative light after coming home from combat, but to know there are still good people out there and tried to make a difference in the bravery of you know, the men and women that are fighting for their lives over in Dana-Farber. And knowing that like, every day above ground is a good day. Once again, we're all in this together.

Kristin Brandt :

So as we wrap this up, I could talk to you all day, to maybe take it back to a personal level. How do you and your wife that you mentioned, how do you cope with that kind of risk that's hanging over your head that that you might be the next to get that cancer diagnosis?

Kurt Power :

It's, it's, it's tough. I mean, it's hard to even process I'll be completely honest, nobody knows. Once again, like my wife knows I know I always kind of just assumed that I was gonna die from that, or the lead in my chest within a few years like coming home like I didn't even expect to make it period. Just like anything. It's easier to pretend it doesn't exist. Yeah, I was never scared overseas, but the idea of it I it does scare me and it scares a lot of us. And I think not only talking about it, but admitting that like that, that's all right. It's, it's all right to be scared. Cancer. You know, there's no greater danger. As far as highlight, hey, I wouldn't you could have you could have dropped me in anywhere and I would have been confident that I would have would have come out unscathed. But I think that you know, cancer is the one word almost in this in this world that everyone hears and then stops dead in their tracks. You know, we need to talk about it more, we need to do more, as far as getting, you know, proper care, but also having the discussion, right, like, No, we are not right, like we made it home, but we are not invincible, and that we have to do what we can to not only acknowledge these problems exist, but to address them, so we can catch them sooner than later and, you know, hopefully make it through. And I think that's important that until we start going in and getting checked and, and taking this seriously, no different than the mentality overseas, then, you know, we're going to continue to lose that many more American heroes.

Kristin Brandt :

Well, I think, on that note, well, I have to say, I want to thank it feels inadequate to just say thank you, I think you and your wife for your service, not just while you're overseas, but Even now to the to the veterans and to the city and thank you for coming on the show.

Kurt Power :

No, well, you know what? No, thank you necessary 100% totally an honor. And like I said, um, you know, would definitely love to get a team of, you know, veterans together to ride on one of the one of the upcoming PMC's and thank you all for you for everything you do. Really appreciate it. real honor to be here today.

Bill Alfano :

Yeah, it was I really appreciate you coming on Kurt and on a much lighter note. I am sure Kristin would be happy to give some riding and training tips if you put a few people together and

Kristin Brandt :

a veteran but I would love to ride with you.

Kurt Power :

Now Yeah, you know look like a big a big bear on a tricycle circus. But um, no, I mean it I think. I think it's good. I think the positive energy aspect was great. And I think it's amazing what you do. Right? Not only is an amazing event, I think it was Be a heck of accomplishment for anyone that completed.

Bill Alfano :

Yeah. And please keep us posted. You know, as developments come up, you know, there's nothing saying we can't do follow ups and things like that. It really was it was it was an honor to talk to you about this. And thanks for being so candid. And, you know, just putting it out there. I think a lot of people will find this incredibly eye opening and very interesting. And hopefully that'll cause some action, or at least some awareness and get the ball rolling a little bit, maybe, maybe more than it is currently.

Kristin Brandt :

Okay, we're back. So as we said, we recorded this a couple of days ago, I've been trying to unpack everything I learned and my anger level has been up and down. And

Bill Alfano :

that comes through right from him. He's so positive, but as I was editing, like my anger level, also just through the roof, right.

Kristin Brandt :

Well, I think, you know, I think what's important to reinforce is that um, and you He said, this is this is this generations Agent Orange, this isn't a new issue for our military. And that's why in many key ways when I was when we were interviewing him, I was both completely, you know, surprised and, and, and struck by it and also completely unsurprised because you know if you've read enough about the VA, if you read enough about the funding and the challenges that they have, and, and I offer this not as an excuse, but just it's not surprising. And I think anyone who has had to work with the VA, whether it's a current soldier or someone who may, you know, my grandfather is still around and we still work with the VA on his behalf. Know the challenges.

Bill Alfano :

And he was the other side. I mean, man, it doesn't make you proud to raise money for Dana-Farber, just the way he talks about Dana-Farber for both himself, the community. He's in his friend Wesley, it's the reputation you know, obviously everyone knows the care and everything, but just the respect portion came shining through.

Kristin Brandt :

It really did. And the more we can do to figure out how we can support our, you know, our troops, both during their service and after their service, and, you know, really also, what struck me was the importance of early diagnosis, you know, and we talked about it all the time, but there he is, with his his friend, really pointing out that if just one person if there had been one thing that could have been changed, and someone could have gotten, you know, he could have gotten that colonoscopy that night, that this could have been a whole different story. And that really struck me, you know, and I think you very hard that you think about something that's so preventable, and how we make sure that that they don't, you know, to hear him talk about how they're just sitting around with these crazy symptoms that the rest of us were just horrified by and they're always well, you know, oh, you too. Okay, then I must be fine. No, none of you are fine.

Bill Alfano :

It goes to the fact of the strength and courage of those women and men who serve and you know, I just, you know, yo, thank you. You want to say thank you. You mean the Thank you. I wish there was something else to say. I hope listening to this. And having Kurt on inspires in some way, whether it be awareness or just one person going in for an early test or writing a letter encouraging a veteran to get involved. From a point of we got you like, come on join us like we got it, right. He's just such a wonderful guy to you know, some serious subject matter. But in a weird way, it was also just like, delightful to talk to be so positive.

Kristin Brandt :

Oh, he was great. I'm following him on Twitter now. Right. Oh, He just followed me back. I was like,

Bill Alfano :

wow, that's big numbers. I'm still pending. only kidding Kurt . I'm only kidding. But it was great. Great. Yeah. Thank you, Kurt again. And Kristin, you did an awesome job. And this one you always do. But I know you know, I'll give you a little side note to people who are listening to this. I forgot to send Kristin Kurt's bio. So she knew who he was, but not really in any depth. And she handled it like a complete pro that she is. So thank you, Kristin. I'll make sure I get you bios early. I promise.

Kristin Brandt :

That would be great. Hey, you're the one who has to edit this madness. No,

Bill Alfano :

this was an honor. You know, I was going through editing and I'm like, Man, this is a lot of editing. I'm like, really? I'm gonna complain about that after this interview. So I'm okay. I sucked it up.

Kristin Brandt :

Exactly. Just putting it puts again, puts it all in perspective. Right. Um, Anyway, let's I think it's time to wrap this up. Yeah. For show notes, links to read more, maybe link to Kurt Power on Twitter. You can visit that pmc.org slash podcasts.

Bill Alfano :

And if you liked this one or any of our podcasts, please share with friends. We recommend three twos Okay, fours better, but please share, get the word out. And remember, there's a lot riding on us.

Kristin Brandt :

There's a lot riding on us. Thanks for listening.

Bill Alfano :

Thank you.