SPOKANE, Wash. – Twice a year, a group of veterans travel across the country to Washington D.C. to see the memorials built in their honor.
It is paid for and supported by a group called Honor Flight. Locally, that group is led by a volunteer, Tony Lamanna. He has a full-time job as a police detective and a family, but he dedicates countless hours to the cause. He does this all the while living with cancer. But, he has been able to win that battle.
It started with a routine check-up and later aggressive testing. That would lead to life saving treatment. While there is no cure for his cancer, it is treatable. With strong medical support, he is able to lead our veterans to a place of healing.
"To me it's better than meeting a super bowl quarterback or a star. Because these people are the stars," said Lamanna.
They are veterans. Different wars, different ages but sharing a common bond of service. They are like those men in the war movies, but very real and their stories are very powerful. These warriors make up the Honor Flight family that Lamanna helps lead.
"We have several who say it's the second most important day. Second to getting married or having their children," he explained.
Lamanna saw Honor Flight working in other markets and brought it to Spokane. The first flight was November 2009 with 25 veterans on a commercial flight. His venture was a success. About a year later, he would be fighting a blood plasma cancer called multiple myeloma and would be preparing for an intense treatment.
"Intense chemotherapy. It was like having Draino put in your bones and cleaned out the bad marrow," said Lamanna.
Lamanna and his doctor knew something was wrong a few years before an abnormality caught during a routine physical. Within time and intense testing, he would know it was cancer, treatable, but incurable.
Lamanna would look to Dr. Hakan Kaya to help him fight his own war against the cancer. While the doctor would help Lamanna win the ongoing fight against his cancer, he would also become part of the Honor Flight family, traveling twice as a volunteer with the group. All the while amazed at Lamanna’s resiliency.
“He's just an amazing person. Who does this? Having cancer still being a detective, Honor Flight, who does this,” said Dr. Kaya.
Both Dr. Kaya and Lamanna believe that a cure is a possibility in Lamanna's lifetime. In the meantime, Lamanna never misses an Honor Flight. Even through the cancer he made the trips and fulfilled his calling. To date, more than 1,200 local veterans have traveled with the group and for Lamanna, it is just the beginning.
Right now, there is no screening for Tony's form of cancer, multiple myeloma. However, when people go in for a routine check-up and blood work, doctors will sometimes find an abnormality in the blood. That can lead to other appropriate testing and - in the end - save your life.
(© 2016 KREM)