One might consider Chula Vista resident Donaldo Kochackis a lucky man.
After surviving military service through several wars, Kochackis cheated death many times. Little did he know after retiring he’d have to fight for his life two more times.
It was his experience as a veteran that he said gave him the ability to live through two cancer diagnoses and eventually write a book about it.
Kochackis, 80, was diagnosed with colon cancer when he was 65 and beat it, but in 2008 found out he was battling aggressive prostate cancer.
His book, “Prostate Cancer and Me,” was published in July.
“It’s a book about what I went through,” Kochackis said. “The intention behind it was to help others.”
Kochackis said it was his experiences flying in the military and defying death on a daily basis that gave him the confidence to overcome the prostate cancer.
“You face dangers and you overcome them,” he said. “It’s part of flying every time you get off the ground you know you could crash anytime.”
Kochackis began his military career in 1949 and much later joined the Air Force Reserves on flying status for 30 years as a loadmaster.
“Our job was to balance the airplane for safety of flight,” Kochackis said. “It was dangerous.”
Throughout his book, Kochackis describes his treatment as gunning down cancer cells.
“I selected radiation treatment based on my experience in the military and not going into the path of the airplanes or I would get zapped,” he said. “You’ve got to live day by day, because there’s nothing you can do about it, its there.”
Kochackis served in Vietnam, the Korean War and Desert Storm.
“What I did is I divided the cancer into a person,” Kochackis said. “It became my enemy. The book revolves around the cancer trying to get out and spread to the rest of my body to put me in the grave. It tried to finish me off and I won.”
Kochackis had to avoid walking in front of an active weather antenna because of the radiation danger. When doctors presented him with treatment options, he opted for the most extreme—external beam radiation therapy to get rid of the fast acting cancer.
In November 2011, with a PSA of 0.3, Kochackis was declared cancer-free.
Kochackis said it’s also his positive outlook on life and sense of humor that contributed to him still being alive.
“My whole life has been making jokes about standard … I treat this as an adventure instead of just being a sickness,” Kochackis said. “The analogy here is everybody has to accept cancer in their own way. They have to select their treatment in their own way—what works good for one person may not work well for another person.”
One in six men will be diagnosed with prostate cancer during his lifetime, according to the American Cancer Society.
Medical Director Marilyn Norton of Infusion Services at the Douglas and Nancy Barnhart Cancer Center at Sharp Chula Vista Medical Center was impressed with Kochackis’ story.
Norton has practiced oncology for 15 years, but being retired military herself, could see the significance in Kochackis’ analogies.
“I think it’s vey important when given a diagnosis that’s life threatening that everyday you face it with a positive attitude and say ... I’m going to let my instincts take over and fight every day to beat this.”
Norton’s said persons’ life experiences can have a profound affect on how they view their cancer and the way in which they fight to live.
“I think that in oncology ... we know that frame of mind has so much to do with your survival,” Norton said. “Mentality is so very important because when you are in the right mind, you fight every day to live longer and I think that drawing similarities between oncology and the military…in the military we’re taught to ignore pain and put fear behind us because then we second guess and we’re trained to act on instinct.”
Kochackis lives in Chula Vista with his wife Alice. He has written three books.