Story by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Kenneth Rodriguez Santiago
SOUTH CHINA SEA – In November 2012, Interior Communications Electrician 2nd Class John Schulte, from Riverside, Calif., was at home and had just finished eating dinner when he received the call that would change his life.
Schulte had nodular melanoma, a form of skin cancer.
“The first phone call I received tore me up pretty bad; I was distraught and scared,” said Schulte. “I was worried about myself, but I was just as worried about my wife. She was six months pregnant. The doctor made it sound like it was the worst-case scenario”
Being diagnosed with cancer can happen out of nowhere. People can go through their daily routine without feeling any symptoms or having even the slightest thought of being sick before they find out something is wrong.
Schulte had a mole on his right temple next to his eye. During his deployment with USS Carl Vinson (CVN 70) earlier that year, the mole changed color and size. He wanted it removed for cosmetic reasons but didn’t have the slightest clue it was cancer. After removing the mole, the dermatologist told Schulte it would be tested to ensure nothing was wrong with it.
There was. Schulte went in for his first surgery Nov. 27, 2012.
His coworkers were shocked at first and wanted to show their support anyway they could. Schulte decided he would rather joke about his situation than be grim.
When Schulte found out he needed a skin graft from his thigh or butt cheek, his coworkers started calling him ‘butt face.’ They gave him gag gifts to lift his spirit. It all helped to keep him laughing through his ordeal.
“We all go through a lot of challenging times together,” said Schulte. “I think humor and staying positive is one of the ways that can help anyone get through those times.”
After spending nine months recovering from his third surgery, Schulte found out the Navy was considering medically separating him.
“I got past the fact that I had cancer pretty quickly because I had so much other stuff going on,” said Schulte. “I was more concerned with my family and possibly being out of the Navy.”
Schulte was the sole provider and questioned how he was going to support his family.
He wrote a personal statement for his medical board saying why he wanted to continue to serve. To his surprise, the Navy listened.
Schulte said before the cancer he really did not like being in the Navy and questioned why he chose to join. Now, he has a different opinion.
“I think going through this experience has shown me that the Navy does more for my family and me than I could ever imagine,” said Schulte. Reflecting on how his friends and fellow Sailors supported him emotionally and the Navy paid for his medical treatments, he added, “It showed me that I’m part of a big family.”
Now Schulte wants to pay it forward by supporting his Sailors.
“We have our rank and everything, but when you need to be supported the most, there is someone there to help you through it,” said Schulte. “I want to be able to give the same support to others that I received. I want to show other Sailors that life isn’t as bad as you think it is on deployment.”
Schulte may have been through an emotional roller coaster when he was diagnosed with cancer, but taking that experience and reflecting on it gave him a new perceptive on life, the Navy and the Sailors around him.