Fighting the odds
DONALD R. SERFASS/TIMES NEWS Tamaqua policeman Matt Bynon, 37, seen here resting at home following surgery, is drawing courage from his family and community in fighting a rare form of cancer.
Goblet cell carcinoid is a cancer so rare that it amounts to less than one percent of all cancers reported every year.
If you know someone fighting cancer, the odds are that it isn't goblet cell carcinoid.
But for a Tamaqua cop, fighting the odds has become a way of life.
Officer Matt Bynon, 37, was strong and healthy until one day last month when he felt a dull pain in his lower back.
"It was March 31 and I started getting pain in my lower back. It was a mild pain. On a scale of one to ten, it was a three," says Bynon.
Still, there was something odd about the pain. It was nagging and didn't go away. Worse yet, it seemed to travel.
"By Wednesday, it went from the back to the front," he explains.
Bynon went to the emergency room of Pottsville Hospital to be checked out. There, a CT scan revealed a leaking appendix. The Tamaqua native underwent laprascopic surgery and spent three days in the hospital. Everything seemed to be going fairly well until Dr. Bindie told Bynon and his wife, the former Sherry Hegarty, that a routine biopsy of the removed appendix revealed the presence of goblet cell carcinoid.
Bynon's specific case involves a combination of two types of cancer, one is aggressive, the other nonaggressive. Without treatment, it can travel to the lymph nodes. In Bynon's case, tumors already had spread to the abdominal area.
Within weeks, Bynon underwent surgery to remove affected intestines.
"I had a one-foot section of the large intestine removed and one-foot of the small intestine, plus exploratory surgery of the other organs," he says.
Wife Sherry says the surgery actually was targeted to various locations.
"The doctors removed eight to ten tumors," she says.
Bynon is now awaiting an additional medical consultation with an oncologist to find out if chemotherapy or other treatments will be recommended. There is a possibility he'll be seeking treatment in the Philadelphia area.
The experience has been a shock to Bynon, who went from being a perfectly healthy cop to being a hospital patient undergoing two surgeries within one month. That kind of drastic change in lifestyle can be difficult. Trying to adjust to the reality of cancer makes the adjustment even harder.
"In the beginning, there's denial," he says. "You never really accept it."
For Sherry, the news and ensuing medical care resulted in changes in the normal routine of the household. In many ways, dealing with the reality of cancer has become a hurdle she faces every morning.
"When we first found out, we cried for days. I still have my moments. I still break down," says Sherry.
It's also been an emotional jolt to the children: Connor Evans, 15, Alexis Higgins, 11, and Zane Bynon, 4.
"It's stressful," Bynon says. His eyes fill with tears when he talks about the youngsters. "How do you tell a four-year-old child that you have cancer?"
On top of that, how does one deal with a rare cancer in which there are more questions than answers?
According to medical experts, only 500 to 1,000 cases of the illness are reported each year.
"They don't know what causes it," says Sherry. "Research may link it to a genetic form." But medical experts simply aren't sure.
The Bynons hope answers will be found, especially for the sake of others, including the children.
For instance, would it be advisable for children who may be genetically at risk of developing appendix cancer to have the appendix removed before problems surface? Nobody seems to know the answers.
In the meantime, Bynon the cop - who devoted himself to law enforcement and to serving others over the past seven years - is now learning how to be on the receiving end of help.
"People have been overwhelmingly supportive," he says. But the idea of sitting back and accepting assistance is not the norm for a man like Bynon, who describes himself as "stubborn". But if he's truly stubborn, it's in his determination to help others in need.
"All I've ever known was helping others. That's what I was used to."
Bynon has a long history of working hard and defying the odds. For instance, years ago some folks said the field of law enforcement wasn't the best career choice for the young man.
"I'm diabetic," he says. "And I'm on an insulin pump. People said I couldn't be a cop. Well guess what? I'm a cop."
He says his many challenges aren't nearly as great as the struggles of others he's encountered in his career in law enforcement.
"There are people worse off than me," he notes.
Bynon is a U. S. Navy veteran and former submariner who served aboard the USS West Virginia. He serves as TASER instructor for the Tamaqua police department and also captain of the Tamaqua Rescue Squad.
If there is one thing he's learned, it's how to do his best to fight the odds.
That's a big part of his strategy with goblet cell carcinoid - to continue to fight the illness and to be there for his wife and family.
"I'm not going anywhere," he vows.
He intends to fight the good fight and help others in the process. That's one reason why he wanted word to get out about his situation. He says people need to be aware that health is a priority. He urges others to seek medical care as soon as you suspect something is wrong.
"I want to get it out to the public," says Bynon. "If you have a pain the abdomen, go get it checked."
Bynon is currently unable to work and is receiving short term disability payments. To help the family with medical bills and transportation costs, a school dance was held at the Tamaqua Community Center on May 7. A spaghetti dinner is scheduled for June 19 from 11-4 at the Tamaqua Elks Lodge, and the Tamaqua Lions/LEO Club will raise funds for Bynon during the 19th Annual Tamaqua Summerfest on Father's Day, June 20. Other events are being planned as well.
Bynon is grateful for the outpouring of support. He's still unaccustomed to being on the receiving end of assistance, and he'd never ask for it. But he's humbled by the generosity of others and he's taken aback when he realizes how many friends are there for him. The support has, in a sense, renewed his energy and helped to provide focus and direction.
The community response, and the love of his family, is giving Matt Bynon plenty of reasons to fight. It also provides a foundation for hope.
"You always hope," he says. "Hope is what keeps you alive."