As a commercial airline pilot, Paul Hildebrandt announces turbulent weather ahead for his passengers. But life offered no such warning when his world was turned upside down by cancer.
The energetic 52-year-old aviator was diagnosed with a rare and aggressive form of T-cell lymphoma in September 2009. Paul said sharing his diagnosis with his wife was the hardest thing he’s ever done. "There’s so much uncertainty at the beginning. It’s so traumatic and emotional," he said.
Paul was treated with chemotherapy and radiation before a stem-cell transplant at Seattle Cancer Care Alliance in February 2010. "They said, ‘You’re young, you’re healthy, we’re going to hit you hard with everything we’ve got,’" said Paul of his treatment. "I said, ‘Bring it on. I’m not going anywhere. I’m fighting this bad boy.’"
Forced to quit flying during his treatment, Paul was able to return to his beloved captain’s chair in November 2010 after being declared cancer-free.
Paul celebrated the first anniversary of his transplant in Sun Valley, Idaho, skiing—one of his favorite pastimes—with a large group of family members and friends and enjoying a "first birthday" party.
Though he feels stronger now than before his diagnosis, Paul recently sought help through the Survivorship Clinic for some lingering body changes, including digestive issues and minor neuropathy. "They have me try different things; I’m working on it," he said.
Paul said he and his primary care provider benefited tremendously from the care plan provided by the Survivorship Clinic. "My general practitioner needed a roadmap of my needs. He’s very attentive so I know he’ll follow the recommendations," he said. "I didn’t realize I needed to keep an eye on my bone density and watch what supplements I take. The care plan absolutely gives me peace of mind. Otherwise, I’d feel like I was in limbo now."
Grateful for cancer patients who took part in clinical studies that led to his successful treatment, Paul is eager to give back to research by volunteering for studies himself. "If they can learn from me for others, I’m so adamant about that now because I know I wouldn’t be here if people didn’t do that before me," he said.
He also raises funds for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society, climbing 69 flights of Seattle’s Columbia Center with a team this year for the group’s Big Climb. He plans to volunteer at Seattle Children’s, visiting patients in his pilot uniform, too.
"Cancer was a wake-up call," he said. "I look at the world through totally different eyes. The things and the chores—they just don’t matter anymore. The only thing that matters is people. Every day is a great day."