After losing his legs to a landmine and battling cancer, this vet's mission: raise money for another

Most people have anniversaries they look forward to celebrating, but that's not always the case.

A man from Cape Ray, N.L. is marking the anniversary today of an accident that changed his life forever and, 25 years after that fateful day, he's once again doing something to help others. 

Tommy Anderson is raising money for a service dog for a fellow veteran with PTSD, though Anderson himself doesn't have the mental health condition. 

The Newfoundlander was serving with the Canadian Forces in Croatia on April 24, 1994 when he lost both legs below the knee in a landmine explosion.

"I never felt no pain. All I heard was this bang," Anderson recalled about the day his jeep drove over a landmine that detonated.

Bernice Hillier/CBC

Never far from his mind

Tommy Anderson doesn't need an anniversary to bring the day of his accident to his mind. He thinks of it often.

"The last thing I can remember is rolling across the tarmac on the airport strip," he said.

"And I can hear the blades of the helicopter going round right fast and it was loud and all of a sudden it just started to disappear and that's when I lost consciousness." 

All I heard was this bang. - Tommy Anderson

Anderson recuperated from his injuries at the National Defence Medical Centre in Ottawa, was outfitted with two prosthetic limbs, received a corneal transplant (his eye was injured in the blast), and has lived out the past 25 years back home in Cape Ray, N.L, marrying and having two sons who are now teenagers.

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"My disability doesn't stop me doing the things that I enjoy doing," Anderson told CBC Radio's Newfoundland Morning.

"Sometimes it seems like a lifetime away, when it happened, and there are some days that it seems like yesterday."

A tougher adversary

If Tommy Anderson thought the landmine that maimed him would be his fiercest foe, he found out last year that he was wrong.

In May 2018, the former soldier found out who his next enemy would be when he was diagnosed with rectal cancer.

"To me, the accident was a piece of cake because I knew I was going to recover," said Anderson.

"When I got diagnosed with cancer last year, oh boy, that was a different ball game altogether, because everybody knows there's no guarantees with cancer."

Anderson says the hardest part of getting the diagnosis was telling his teenaged boys about it.

That was a different ball game altogether, because everybody knows there's no guarantees with cancer. - Tommy Anderson

Anderson has been receiving chemotherapy treatment and, having started his last round of chemo yesterday, he's keeping up hope that the prognosis is good.

"I'm a Dirty Patricia and I'm tough," said Anderson, referring to the military unit, the Princess Patricia's Canadian Light Infantry.

"And I'm not going to let this bring me down."

A close shave 

Most people would say that Tommy Anderson's brushes with death would qualify him to take it easy and look out his own needs.

But Anderson would disagree. Even while he's battling cancer, he's raising money to help not himself, but another veteran.

"I joined the military because I want to help people," said Anderson.

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And it's that overall motivation that has led Anderson to raise money for a cause that's very close to his heart — the Wounded Warriors PTSD Service Dog Program, which provides service dogs for injured veterans and first responders.

The effort was inspired by a suggestion from a friend that Anderson might consider shaving off his beard as a fundraiser.

Anderson started growing a beard after his cancer diagnosis last year, and hasn't shaved it since.

"It's kind of like a playoff beard, I guess," said Anderson.

"It's brought me all good reports about my cancer ever since. So I said to the wife, 'I can't shave it off. That'd be bad luck.'"

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But with chemotherapy treatments nearly done and the hope of a clean bill of health at hand, Anderson plans to shave off his shaggy beard on his birthday, which happens to be on Canada Day.

Between now and then, Anderson is hoping to raise the $15,000 needed to train and pair a service dog with a veteran in need of one.

Not enough dogs

Anderson doesn't have a specific veteran in mind. He just knows the need is great.

The website for Wounded Warriors Canada indicates that the organization can't keep up: "We have now reached a point in Canada where the demand has outstripped the funding capacity requisite to train and pair service dogs with ill and injured Veterans and First Responders."

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For Tommy Anderson, raising money to help a veteran is one way to continue to fight the good fight.

"I miss the military a lot," said Anderson.

"And I guess it's the comradery amongst the soldiers that I miss."

Anderson is proof that the comradery doesn't end when a soldier leaves the Forces.

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