It started with blurry vision during the Army’s Best Warrior competition in 2017.
“Whenever I would look one way, I noticed my vision was kind of fuzzy," said Spc. Shayn Lindquist, a civil affairs soldier with the Army Reserve’s 414th Civil Affairs Battalion. "It just didn’t feel like it was lining up right.”
“I kind of ignored it at first, and then I started noticing that while playing hockey I would get double vision.”
Lindquist went to see an eye doctor, assuming he was suffering from muscle damage after sustaining a light head injury. The doctor said nothing was wrong with his eyes, however, and recommended an MRI scan.
When those results came back, Lindquist learned that he had a brain tumor.
“That was a pretty big shock,” he recalled. “I went into that MRI thinking there’s no way I had a tumor. I just felt perfectly healthy."
Lindquist pushed through his chemotherapy treatments while continuing to attend his unit’s drills and to work toward his undergraduate degree. Since then, he’s also worked to raise money for children who suffer from cancer. Lindquist will be honored as the Army’s Soldier of the Year at the annual Servicemembers of the Year Award ceremony in Washington, D.C., on July 10.
When he was diagnosed, Lindquist had just won the battalion level of the Army Civil Affairs and Psychological Operations Command Soldier of the Year Award competition. He played hockey regularly and was attending classes at Central Michigan University on top of his Reserve duties.
“I felt like I was at my peak,” he said. “I was scheduled to go and compete again at the battalion level, but I couldn’t after I was diagnosed.”
A biopsy revealed that Lindquist’s tumor was in fact cancerous.
Lindquist finished his spring semester at school and began chemotherapy treatments at University of Michigan’s hospital in Ann Arbor.
The first attempt at chemo revealed that he was actually allergic to the drug they wanted him to use. They tried a second attempt by loading him up with Benadryl to fight the allergic reaction, but that didn’t work either. Finally, on the third attempt, they figured out the appropriate dosage.
“From there, it was smooth sailing ... as smooth as chemo goes,” Lindquist said.
He did five rounds of chemo treatments that summer, attending drill weekends sporadically throughout. He recalled attending one drill weekend toward the end of his chemo treatment when his low immune system required him to wear a mask and his hair was still falling out.
“I was just a mess,” he said.
Radiation therapy continued through the fall of 2017. Lindquist didn’t want to take any time off from college, where he was studying international relations, law and economics. So he drove roughly two hours each way from southeastern Michigan’s Ann Arbor to Mount Pleasant, in the center of the state, for the treatments.
“After the halfway point in chemo. I started getting sick,” he said. “Honestly, for me, [chemo] wasn’t too bad. I did a lot better than other people as far as getting sick. But radiation, by the end of it, it took such a huge toll on me. I was exhausted and just drained. I would sleep all the time."
A rock during that time period was his mom, who kept him positive and attended each treatment session with him.
Radiation therapy ended in November 2017, and Lindquist was officially in remission. He’s remained cancer free ever since.
During his treatment he founded a nonprofit organization that brings soldiers and supporters together to help child cancer patients. In April 2018, the first “Ruck for a Cure” event was launched, covering 150 miles in five days and raising $3,000.
Lindquist got the idea for the rucking event from Nick Bare, a former infantry officer who now runs a nutrition supplements company and regularly posts about fitness events on his Instagram.
“I just wanted to prove to myself that even though I went through all that, and my body felt like a mess, I could rebound and reach my peak again,” Lindquist said.
Half the money raised went to St. Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital and half to Special Days Camps, a camp project for children with cancer and their siblings, where Lindquist volunteers during the summer as a counselor.
His Army Reserve supervisor said Lindquist “spends every spare moment in service of others.”
“This year has been super busy, but I’m planning on doing it again," Lindquist said. "We haven’t set a date, but we’re trying to do a one-day ruck, a 25-mile ruck in August to raise a little bit more money.”
Lindquist is planning on finishing up his degree this December. He said his long-term goal is to transfer into the active-duty realm of civil affairs and attend officer candidate school.
Kyle Rempfer is an editor and reporter who has covered combat operations, criminal cases, foreign military assistance and training accidents. Before entering journalism, Kyle served in U.S. Air Force Special Tactics and deployed in 2014 to Paktika Province, Afghanistan, and Baghdad, Iraq.