In 1999, I was on top of the world.  I was a top rated USAF Experimental Test Pilot, a top 1% Air Force Officer and had a 2-star hand written endorsement to go fly the space shuttle in the NASA class of 2000.  I had flown over 50 different aircraft, 100+ elevated risk test missions and graduated at the top of all my schools. I competed in marathons, triathlons, motocross, and thought I was in peak condition.  All that changed in April of 1999.  I had been having a pain in my left leg that the doctors were unable to alleviate. It was finally determined that I needed to have an MRI of my spine to ascertain if it was nerve related.  In conjunction with the MRI they decide to have blood drawn to eliminate causal effects.  What they found in the blood test stunned them.  They even repeated the test as the doctor thought the lab had messed up the test.  My red blood cell count was about 1/3 of what it was supposed to be.  I was immediately referred to an oncologist at the Naval Medical Center in San Diego.  Naval Captain Fred Millard, the head of the Oncology Department, was my assigned doctor.  At diagnosis, it was determined that I had stage 4 Waldenstroms Macroglobulinemia or Lymphoplasmacytic Lymphoma (click on tabs for complete description) with over 90% cancer involvement in my bone marrow and cancer cells in both my lymph nodes and  blood stream.  I also had an even rarer version that caused numerous autoimmune system disorders.  At the time my only child, Evan, was 10 months old and they did not think I would live long enough to see him turn one year old.  Over the next five years, I was told three times I would not live through the night, underwent chemotherapy over a dozen times, had brain surgery to remove a growth the size of a walnut, and had both my spleen and gall bladder removed.  My body turned on itself and was destroying my red blood cells, my white blood cells, my platelets, and my central nervous system. During this five year span I had over 50 blood transfusions and was placed on super high doses of steroids which affected my adrenal gland taking it over a year to restart.  My immune system was weakened to that of an aids patient, was partially paralyzed four times and totally paralyzed once. I even had uncontrollable hiccups that had to be medically treated!  In the summer of 2004, I was running out of treatment options.  Waldenstroms is a very rare cancer and there was no known cure so there are not a tremendous number of treatment options available to patients and I had undergone all of them.  At the time, they were draining three liters of fluid out one lung, giving me several units of blood, and I was having chemotherapy every 4-5 days.  In September of 2004 I underwent an unrelated donor bone marrow transplant that changed my blood type from O-negative to A-positive and have been disease free ever since with no side effects or graft versus host disease.

Winners need one reason, whiners need one excuse.   Over that same five year period, I was able to remain on active duty in the Air Force, which was unheard of at that time.  I continued to excel as a 2-star General Executive Officer and squadron commander receiving the highest scores on unit climate assessments the Air Force had ever seen and graduating at the top of my class at Air Command and Staff College.  I was able to win 5 triathlons and a NORBA mountain bike race.  Three years to the exact date of my transplant, I was able to run the Air Force Marathon placing in the top 20% of all competitors and achieving a new personal record.  Over that same period, I studied a tremendous amount on leadership and was able to teach leadership to the top echelon of Air Force and USAF Academy cadets.  I have had the privilege of being coached by John C. Maxwell in addition to other leadership experts and numerous successful businessmen.  I have had the privilege of sharing my experiences and teaching at speaking engagements around the country including the Lone Star Blood Cancer Conference, International Waldenstrom’s Cancer Conference, National Contract Managers Association National Convention, the Youth With A Mission International Business Conference, and other conferences.  I have also had articles and TV stories done on my journey by Christian Broadcasting Network/700 club, Air Force TV News, News First 5, Airman Magazine and others.  In 2011, I attempted to be the first ever bone marrow transplant recipient to summit Mt Everest. I spent two months in Nepal with an expedition led by Peak Freaks and made it to 24,000' (7,300 Meters) before getting a virus and being forced to turn around.  In 2012, I received the International Amway Hero Award for Leadership for all my work helping cancer patients.  My goal is to be a role model and give hope to individuals who have been diagnosed with terminal illnesses.  I want to teach those and others without terminal illnesses how they can be and do whatever they want to in life, and to lead their lives, not accept their lives.  My goal is to share what I have learned over the last seventeen years with others and help them be successful in whatever endeavors they choose. Unfortunately, many cancer patients self impose limits on their lives or have others place limits on whom or what they can become.  I saw this many times in my own life and the lives of others.  Barriers are erected because they hear the word cancer.  My goal was to be the Roger Bannister of cancer survivors.  Roger Bannister was the first person to break the 4-minute mile demolishing a long standing myth that it could never be done.  Once he broke through the paper barrier, 17 other people broke the 4-minute mile that year and over 100 the next year.  It only takes one to show the world that cancer is not a limiting factor in a person's life.  I have become involved in charitable organizations since then, including the American Cancer Society, Paws for Readers, and others.  During Air Command and Staff College, I was selected as the Special Projects Officer and we raised over $600,000 for numerous causes.  If you are interested in having a unique guest speaker, please contact me!

Mark Schaible