MARTINSBURG, W.Va. (AP) - Tony Robison is no stranger to airplanes, especially after having helped his wife Sheila when they volunteered at the former Thunder Over The Blue Ridge Air Show.
“She loved it so much, and it was a good way for me to meet new people, so those were really good times. Plus we both like giving something back to the community, because it has been good to us,” he said.
But a lot about their lives has changed since then, including his diagnosis with terminal prostate cancer that doctors say means he only has a few months left to live.
Despite the devastating news, the newlyweds have been spending part of their remaining time together spreading the word about the dangers of prostate cancer and the very real need for men to get examinations on a timely basis.
“I never want any other man or his family to go through what we are now facing,” said Tony Robison, who already had an advanced stage cancer by the time he was diagnosed although he’d previously been to doctors and been examined.
“In the beginning, they said I only had six months to live. But the treatment has been helping a little, so they now say I have six months to a year from now to live. So I want to do as much as I can to help spread this message while I can,” he said.
Equally passionate, Sheila Robison said she wants prostate cancer to get more attention from the public, as well as medical researchers.
“We need to do this for the guys, because it is just as important as breast cancer is to women. I’d like to see a month devoted to it, as well as know that doctors would donate their time to do free prostate exams,” she said, pausing to wipe tears from her eyes as she looked away. “It isn’t easy seeing your husband get sicker and sicker every day.”
His story - and their combined commitment to helping others - touched the heart of Nic Diehl, an air show organizer who vividly remembered the couple’s passion about helping with the annual event.
That’s when Diehl, along with others he contacted about the situation, decided to let Tony Robison know how much he matters to the community.
“Tony was definitely one of us when it came to the air show. He was always willing to do anything to help, and he was the kind of volunteer who helped make it so successful,” Diehl said.
Since his own father died with prostate cancer, Diehl said he knows how it feels to be powerless against this disease.
“Some of it is very aggressive, and that’s the kind my dad had, too. Tony is right about getting checked, and I admire him for using his own situation to help save other men’s lives,” he said.
Thanks to a collaborative effort, Diehl arranged for Tony Robison to have his own private air show of sorts on May 29, when a pilot took him up in his stunt plane - and even performed some aerial acrobatics as the two flew together.
But that wasn’t all, because field representative Joy Lewis was also on hand to present him with a certificate from Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin, and Lt. Col. Stuart Brown read a letter from Col. Shaun Perkowski of the 167th Airlift Wing of the West Virginia Air National Guard.
“Aviation and air shows mean a lot of different things to different people, but we all know how much this meant to Tony and Sheila. They are very much aviation fans, but also care about helping others in the community so we are glad to do something for them,” Brown said.
Although Sheila Robison was in on the secret, her husband had no idea why he was being taken to the Aero-Smith Fight Center and truly believed the media was there for someone else - until Diehl introduced him to Jerry Wells, who helped him climb into his plane - an F-1 Rocket - which ultimately flew more than 250 miles per hour with him on board.
“It’s main purpose is just to go really fast, so we were doing 265 miles an hour when we came by here. It’s a great traveling airplane and it does have aerobatic capabilities,” said Wells, who came to Martinsburg from near Harrisburg to provide the special ride.
Wells, who previously took part in the local air show, said he was glad to be part of helping make Tony Robison’s day brighter.
“It was a little wild up there, because I wanted this to be a ride Tony would never forget. So we did some left and right rolls - we looked at the top of the clouds, and we looked at the middle of the clouds which are things we can’t see from here on the ground,” he said with a smile, as AeroSmith official Hank Willard (also a pilot) shook his head in appreciation. “We really went through the paces.”
And thanks to the rolls, Tony Robison “got to see the world from upside down,” he added.
Eastern West Virginia Regional Airport Manager Bill Walkup, who helped with arranging the special flight, also credited several local pilots with having gone up in support of the celebration.
“There is a great community of folks out here that do a lot for other people, and this is a good example,” he said.
For his part, Tony Robison said his favorite moment was seeing the clouds, but he was a little uneasy when Wells allowed him to pilot the plane.
“I only did it for a few seconds, before having him take over again. But it is something I never dreamed would happen to me, and I can’t believe so many people went out of their way to give me this kind of a once-in-a-lifetime experience,” he said.
Information from: The Journal, https://journal-news.net/
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