News: March for Cancer supports survivors, honors victims
OAK GROVE, Ky. - "For my bestie," "for my mother," "for my sister," "for my friend's dad," "for my daughter," "for my grandmother I never met."
The reasons friends, families and neighbors participated in the three-mile March for Cancer at the Oak Grove War Memorial Walking Trail, Oct. 20, varied from person to person, but to each individual participating, cancer was just that - personal.
Essie Saulman and Sandra Calo, Family Readiness Group leaders for Company D, 3rd Battalion, 101st Aviation Regiment, 159th Combat Aviation Brigade, put the event together to raise money for cancer charities and to honor women who have had great influence on their lives.
Saulman's mother and sister lost their lives to breast cancer 21 and 7 years ago, respectfully. She organized the walk in memory of them.
Calo's motivation was to show her support for Christina Maki, wife of Staff Sgt. Steven Maki, a maintenance supervisor with the company.
Maki's life changed April 30, 2012, when she received the news the lump she'd detected months earlier was malignant. With her family so far away, she reached out to friends within the unit.
"I wanted to do something for [Christina] and my mother who survived, for Essie's sister who passed, for me, for my daughter, for everybody," Calo said.
"I wanted to do something as an Army spouse, because we are a family," she said, stretching her arms out toward the attendees. "This is our family."
Calo's reasons for cancer awareness extend farther than just for Christina's well-being. Her mother is a cancer survivor, as is Calo's best friend's mother.
Due to her mother's history of cancer, Calo is concerned for her health and that of her children, but family history of cancer does not determine whether you are or are not susceptible to it.
"I didn't have breast cancer in my family - I'm the only one," Maki said. "We have [a history of] bladder cancer, but not breast cancer."
Breast cancer was once considered an older woman's disease. Most women don't start getting mammograms until after age 40. Maki was diagnosed at only 34 years old.
"Cancer does not discriminate," Calo stresses. "It doesn't matter if you are a girl, boy, adult or child. We have a kid in our unit - a three-time cancer survivor. Men are stricken with breast cancer as well and they don't think they [can] be."
"Each year, nearly 200,000 women and 1,700 men will develop breast cancer," Lt. Gen. Patricia D. Horoho, the surgeon general of the U.S. Army and commanding general of the U.S. Army Medical Command, said in a public service announcement dated Sept. 27 for Breast Cancer Awareness Month.
Horoho advocates early detection and screening as a preventative measure, and Calo agrees.
"Early detection makes a difference," Calo said. "You have to take care of yourself. You know your body."
Maki said she knew her cancer had to be in the early stages, based on the time between her yearly women's health exam and when she discovered her lump.
"I wasn't afraid of dying from it," she said.
In fact, Maki said her prognosis is very good because of the early detection, and her attitude is positive.
"I told the doctor, 'I have a 2-year-old and a 6-year-old. I have to be here for my kids,'" she said.
A person with cancer is not the only one affected by the disease.
"Cancer affects everybody," Calo said. "It affects everyone around you."
The main theme of the walk was for breast cancer, though participants walked to honor loved ones with other types of cancer, too.
Gregory Hernandez, husband of Pfc. Veronica Hernandez, an automated logistics specialist with Company E, 3rd Bn., 101st Avn. Rgt., never met his grandmother, who died of breast cancer before he was born, but that's not why he participated. He walked to honor his best friend's dad, who died of stomach cancer when Hernandez was only 17.
"He fought so hard to live long enough to see his oldest son graduate from high school as Valedictorian, but he didn't make it," Hernandez said. "Cancer touches everybody in some way. It can touch you in many different ways, whether it is breast cancer, lung cancer or stomach cancer."
Some participants who have not been directly affected by cancer still came out to support those who have.
"I know if I had a family member with cancer, it would take a toll on me," said Spc. Tasia Eddy, an aviation operations specialist with Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 3rd Battalion, 101st Aviation Regiment, 159th Combat Aviation Brigade. "I want to be here to support and empathize with those who've had family members that have died or are suffering with cancer."
Empathy, understanding and encouragement can go a long way when someone's health is in jeopardy. Saulman said she would have appreciated having a support network when her mother and sister were battling cancer.
"Back home, we didn't have a support system," she said. "We fought it alone."
She has since realized she was wrong to think that way.
It's important for Saulman to show her support to those who are going through it now.
"We are not in [this battle] alone," she said.
Saulman and her surviving sister keep in touch regularly. They are "bosom buddies" - they keep each other accountable to perform breast self-exams.
Calo and Saulman are planning another walk for cancer in Nashville, but it's not about the walk.
"It's about getting the word out, so that when my daughter's older, there's more knowledge about it," Calo said. "I don't want my daughter to grow up and [cancer research] be where it is today. It's better than it was, but it's not good enough."
"It's not just about treatment, it's about prevention," Calo said.