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I was honored to recently serve as a Consumer Reviewer for the Department of Defense (DoD) Breast Cancer Research Program. Serving the DoD was not new for me. For over 25 years, I served in the Air Force as a records manager, with deployments to Saudi Arabia and Germany. In 2009, I was a Senior Master Sergeant (E-8) serving on Scott Air Force Base when I started feeling a pain in my breast. A military physician sent me for a mammogram, and it was later confirmed that I had breast cancer. Further tests revealed that I had advanced Stage 4 ER+ HER2+ breast cancer, with metastases to my liver and ribs. It was very difficult being sent straight to a civilian hospital for follow-up and treatment. Not only did I feel like I was on my own, entering the civilian world, I could foresee that conquering breast cancer and fighting for my life was now going to be my mission. Being told I had metastatic breast cancer at initial diagnosis was shocking and completely changed the course of my military career and life. Within months of my diagnosis, I was medically retired from the Air Force. I was very disappointed to have to leave the Service. I wanted to advance to Chief Master Sergeant (E-9), but breast cancer cut my military career short. This is NOT how I wanted to retire.
I started my treatments and underwent mastectomy with reconstruction. Despite the challenges I faced, I feel it is now my duty and calling to do something about breast cancer, not just for me, but for other Service members, Veterans, and African American women. I became an active member of the St. Louis Breast Cancer Coalition, which provides an avenue for me to speak with, and on behalf of, these unique populations of women. My local involvement in advocacy also led me to become an advocate with the National Breast Cancer Coalition (NBCC). Through my advocacy work, I learned that the DoD was supporting innovative, high-impact research that was already proven to have made a clinical impact. As a woman with ER+ HER2+ breast cancer, I have been treated with Herceptin® combined with anti-estrogens and aromatase inhibitors for over six years, since my initial diagnosis. Thus, it was an honor to meet Dr. Dennis Slamon at an NBCC summit. I knew that the DoD funded Dr. Slamon's early work on Herceptin® and thus benefitted me as an active duty Service member, and now as a Veteran. It is a full circle, with me giving 25 years of service to the DoD, and the DoD giving back to me as a breast cancer patient.
Now as a consumer reviewer serving the DoD BCRP, I feel I can give back again. I appreciate the opportunity to meet and hear from the scientist reviewers, and to share the experience with the survivor community. When I was diagnosed, I remember wondering to myself, "With all the research that has been done, why haven't scientists found a cure for breast cancer yet?!" While I and other breast cancer survivors are anxious and frustrated that no cure exists for metastatic breast cancer, and yet, I walked away from the peer review experience feeling assured that researchers are indeed working hard and trying to find solutions to end this disease.
Last updated Thursday, March 17, 2016