Tamaqua police officer Matt Bynon had an agonizing pain that had him suffering for three days. It started in his back, then went to his side, and eventually migrated to the front area of his stomach.
That was in March 2010. On March 31, he went to the emergency room at Schuylkill Medical Center South in Pottsville and was told his appendix had to come out, so he had an emergency appendectomy. On April 19, he had a follow-up visit to the hospital, thinking he was going to get clearance to return to work.
Instead, he was told his condition was still very serious. His appendicitis had been caused by a cancerous tumor that grew to the point of causing the appendix to split.
Bynon, married and a father of three children at home, was diagnosed with a rare type of cancer: goblet cell carcinoid.
"They pretty much told me there isn't a treatment for this type of cancer," Bynon said.
He said he was told goblet cell carcinoid is a combination of two types of cancer – aggressive and nonaggressive. An exploratory surgery performed on Bynon found about 10 more tumors that were deemed cancerous.
Despite the dismal overall prognosis, Bynon has been fighting his condition valiantly to the point of even returning to work.
As a result of his positive attitude and determination, he will receive a "Courage Award" from the Carbon-Tamaqua Unit of the American Cancer Society during its 32nd annual telethon airing this weekend on Blue Ridge Communications TV 13.
The telethon will be held at Penn's Peak in Jim Thorpe from noon to midnight on Saturday and Sunday. The Courage Awards will be presented between 7 and 8 p.m. on Sunday.
He is one of three Courage Award recipients. The other two are 12-year-old Hunter Kurak Wolfe of Jim Thorpe and 73-year-old Nancy Herzog of Towamensing Township.
Bynon, 38, is married to the former Sherry Edmondson. Their children are a son, Conner Evans, 15; a stepdaughter, Alexis Higgins, 12, and a son, Zane Bynon, 4.
He has been a police officer for eight years, working part-time in Kline Township, Rush Township, and Ryan Township before being put on the Tamaqua force full-time 2 1/2 years ago.
A lifetime resident of the borough, he is captain of the Tamaqua Rescue Squad. He has been a volunteer in the emergency services field in Tamaqua for 22 years.
"I was told I will die from this type of cancer," he stated stoically. "I asked about the possibility of a reoccurrence. They said 100 percent."
After Bynon was diagnosed with the goblet cell carcinoid, aggressive treatment began. Some of his colon was removed. Twenty-three lymph nodes were surgically taken out.
A medical port was installed and he started a regimen of chemotherapy.
He had been off work from March 30 to Nov. 1.
"It got to the point I needed to get back to work due to financial reasons," he said. He noted that the community rallied in his support with all types of fund-raisers, and for that he is very grateful.
"The doctor felt I could stop intravenous chemotherapy," said Bynon. "He set me up on oral Xeloda where I would take two doses twice a day for a week, then be off it for a week.
Even though he returned to work, he continues the oral chemo.
"I do get testing done on a regular basis, every two to three months," he explained. "I get CAT scans, bone scans, PET scans, blood tests. All have shown negative for cancer. I had a colonoscopy done and everything looked good."
One of the things which has been a tremendous element in the battle against the dreaded "C" word is his family.
"My family has given me tremendous support," he said.
Then he added, "So have my friends as well as total strangers." He displayed a stack of cards he received, many from people he doesn't know and probably never met.
"I have never asked anyone for anything," clarified the police officer. "All the fundraisers and benefits were totally overwhelming."
Asked if having cancer changed his outlook in life, he said, "I live day by day. You can't dwell on the past and you've got to look forward to the future. Hopefully, I can inspire someone else and help them get through it. It's not the end of the world."
"I'm living my life on my terms," he remarked. "I'm not living my life on cancer's term."
Bynon stressed, "All of my kids have been an inspiration to help me. I look at my youngest son. He's only 4. They always put a smile on you because they're so innocent at that age. He has no understanding what I'm going through."
He said when Zane asks him what's wrong, Bynon responds that he "is sick." The police officer asked, "How do you tell a 4-year-old child you have cancer?"
He volunteered how he felt when he was diagnosed with cancer.
"I wasn't depressed," he said. "I was angry. The reason I was angry was 'Why me? What did I do to deserve this?' I was a Navy veteran. I was a cook by trade. I worked hard for everything I have."
He said he was approached with help from the ACS but turned it down.
"There's people out there worse off than me," Bynon said. "They have nothing. They have nobody. I had a lot of friends and family who helped me get by."
Bynon said he's not considered to be in remission. To be in remission, you must stop chemotherapy and go cancer-free for five years.
"There's not a day goes by that I don't think about it," he said referring to his cancer. "But I don't dwell on it."
He added, "The reason I became a police officer and joined the rescue squad is because I love helping people. That's who I am. That's my nature."
He continued, "One reason I agreed to accept the Courage Award is there are a lot of people out there with cancer. Every day that I had an appointment in the oncology ward, I would always see different people. There are people that don't ask for anything.
"People that don't ask for help, they're the ones I kind of worry about. Because they need the help to move on. People have pancreatic cancer. Skin cancer. There are good treatments for that.
"When I was told I have cancer with no cure, and it is in Stage 4, I wasn't about to stop. The word 'terminal' is not in my vocabulary."
He concluded, "You can have the courage to wake up every day and find something positive to live for."
"I think, to sum it up with everything I'm going through, I'm not a quitter," he said. "People must remember that everyone has a bad day. But don't pity yourself when you have a bad day. Remember, there are people having a worse day than you. If I'm down on my life, I will reflect on my friends and my family. To pity yourself, it's not worth it. It's not worth it at all."