Staff Sgt. Stephen Sprague: Defying the Odds

WTU Force Structure Staff Sgt. Stephen Sprague, his wife Hillary, son Malcolm and daughter Lilia pose for a family portrait. (Photo Courtesy by Stephen Sprague)

By Annette P. Gomes, Warrior Care and Transition


As a combat medic, Staff Sgt. Stephen Sprague is trained and prepared for a crisis, but nothing could prepare him for a cancer diagnosis: not once but twice.

“It’s safe to say that this is my biggest battle in life. Every day I struggle to do everyday things like shower, walk, and sit. I need to choose my chair correctly or it will cause me intense pain,” Sprague said. “It can be very difficult to play with my children which, as a father, is the most important thing in my life. As a father, my children usually win the battle so most of my day is in pain. However, it is an easy choice that I will make every day of my life until I am unable to choose”, said Sprague.

Sprague was diagnosed with Chordoma, a rare form of cancer. The tumor occurs anywhere along the spine, from the base of the skull to the tailbone, slowly and gradually extending into the bone and soft tissue around it.

After enduring six operations beginning in August 2014, Sprague endured a number of side effects, including the installation of four rods attached to his spine for support, a loss of lung power, and increased nerve and muscle damage limiting his mobility.

“At all times it feels like a large snake is constricting me around the chest and back. So a big thing for me is to never under value even the smallest things in life because you never know when you might lose it. One of the main reasons why this is the biggest battle is because even combat was a choice for me. I enlisted during a time of war so I knew combat was inevitable. Cancer wasn’t a known battle to me. I don’t think that anyone expects to be battling cancer in their life. You hear of it or some people know someone who is battling it but you don’t think it could be you,” Sprague said.

According to Sprague, when he was given his diagnosis in 2014, doctors told him not to google it, as the outcomes for this type of cancer is rarely favorable. Since then, this fourth generation Soldier has defied the odds set by the disease. Doctors told him he would not live past an estimated time; so far he surpassed it by three years.

He also stated that his support system is second to none. “From the beginning, my wife Hillary has always been by my side. I really think it would have been a lot harder to deal with if I did not have her. She is my rock, my anchor, and my compass. My two children are a very close second to my wife. I’ve been lucky to have an amazing support system that helps build my spirit,” Sprague said.

“Over the last few years I’ve received incredible medical treatment from Massachusetts General Hospital. My in-laws and my family have helped us a lot with our day to day activities. The Warrior Transition Battalion at Fort Belvoir has given my family and me a great deal of support, and that’s half the battle. These assets mixed with a strong spirit has carried me though my medical challenges. The WTB even helped me to complete the promotion I had been working on before the diagnosis,” he said.

Sprague was promoted to Staff Sgt. on June 17, 2017. “It was such a special day for my family and I, to be able to have me in uniform and presenting to the board.”