A soldier’s story
Faced with terminal cancer, Army vet returns to Vietnam with an open heart
By Mark Ambrogi
Kent Maxfield summoned his three daughters together for a family meeting at his Fishers home on Feb. 14, 2013.
That day he learned he was suffering from pancreatic cancer and the prognosis was not good. If he did nothing, he had six months to live. If he had surgery, he was told he might have 2 1/2 years to live. Mayfield shared his outlook with his family.
“I had three choices. I could sit around and cry and feel sorry for myself,” Mayfield said. “I could wait to die. Or I could get busy living and I chose to do that.”
A bucket list that Maxfield had started after open heart surgery eight years ago took on added urgency. After a family trip with his daughters and their families to Puerto Rico last summer, just two major items remained.
Maxfield, who turns 70 on June 6, recently knocked off the major one by returning to Vietnam. Maxfield, who served in the U.S. Army during the Vietnam War for a year (March 1967 to March 1968) during the Tet Offensive, had long wanted to return. It was a trip his doctors doubted he would make last spring.
After having surgery and being on chemotherapy for several months, Maxfield was feeling good and went to Las Vegas on the year anniversary of his March 1, 2013 surgery. Yet soon after, a CAT scan showed the cancer had moved into his liver.
“It had metastasized and we had two tumors too close to my heart to do surgery,” said Maxfield, a 1963 Indianapolis Howe High School graduate. “They put me on aggressive chemotherapy. The last couple of CAT scans the tumors have shrunk. I’m feeling really blessed right now. They can’t cure it, they told me that. But it’s going to keep me around longer. Some have seen it disappear from this chemo, but it’s maybe one percent.”
Maxfield went to Vietnam on an eight-day trip as part of Global Ministries People to People mission, returning home on March 6. Maxfield, who is divorced, has three daughters Laura Groom, 45, Lisa Maxfield, 44, and Cheri Weisheit, 43, made the trip with him.
Maxfield said his family has no history of cancer so he believes the cancer is a result of Agent Orange, which was used by the U.S. Military as herbicidal warfare in Vietnam. After being in denial for many years, Maxfield sees now that he has suffered post-traumatic stress disorder.
Maxfield, who has six grandchildren and two great-grandchildren, had been touched by the children of Vietnam and wanted to return with love in his heart. While on the trip, Maxfield carried the same small Bible that he had with him on the battlefield.
“During the war, the kids would say ‘GI chocolate’ and they would try to see stuff on the side of the road,” said Maxfield, who retired in 2007 after being in corporate real estate for several restaurants. “You watch them play and it couldn’t have been here in America. Their toys were different. They take a stick and a rock or kicking a can around. They laugh and play the same way. Going back I realize people are all the same. We look a little different and we have different material things. The reception I got from the people in Vietnam was so loving.”
On the trip, Maxfield visited orphanages. Before he left, friends from the Geist Christian Church Bible study, other members and friends donated enough so Maxfield could give $5,000 in scholarship money for Vietnamese youth to study social work.
“I felt guilty (America) pulled out because we left (the South Vietnamese) high and dry,” Maxfield said. “The genocide was up to a million people after we left.”
His daughters were glad they shared the trip with him
“It was nice to see him get some closure to something that was hard for him over the years,” Weisheit said.
Lisa said it was “amazing to see the joy that it brought to him.”
The only major thing left on Maxfield’s bucket list is an Alaskan cruise which he plans to take this summer.
“Everybody keeps telling me I have to add to that bucket list,” he said.
A special bucket list
The No. 1 of his 60 items was to tell a woman he loved her and he did, but it didn’t work out.
Here’s some other examples:
Leave a book of experiences to his grandkids
Give joy to a stranger’s life.
Go to the Masters (“I did but it got rained out that day.”)
Find an old girlfriend and tell her she touched my life.
Save a child of the world.
Go to the Kentucky Derby
Run a mini-marathon. (“I did that several years ago but wanted to do it again. Don’t know if that is going to happen or not.”)
Open my heart and soul to other people
Have fun every day.
Spend more time with Christ believers.
Help young veterans.
“It’s amazing when you put these things together you think it’s going to be material things but it’s not,” Maxfield said. “It’s people that have touched you in your life.”