ST. PAUL, Minn. - It’s probably a cyst … was the thought running through my head as I conducted my self-breast exam. No worries, I’ve had them before. I’m busy with work, my family and my involvement with the VFW.
Six months pass. I’m thinking about the lump in my breast and now, I have started to worry. I could be one in eight. One of eight women diagnosed with breast cancer in their lifetime. Why have I waited so long to have this lump checked out?
It’s test day and the technician is quiet as she conducts an ultra sound on the lump following the mammogram. I feel my breath catch in my throat as the doctor walks into the room. “You’re clear. It’s only a cyst.” I breathe again and think of the women who haven’t been as fortunate to hear those words.
I know three women with ties to the Minnesota National Guard whose lives have been forever changed by breast cancer. Their stories inspired the Pink Tank Project. The goal of the Pink Tank Project is to build breast cancer awareness for all women whether they wear the uniform or not.
The Pink Tank Project is a promise – a promise to yourself to conduct monthly self-breast exams and have mammograms as recommended by your health care provider. Liking the Pink Tank Project on Facebook ensures you receive monthly reminders to conduct self breast exams.
Why a tank? Like a tank, we are strong, but not invincible.
Sgt. Cassie Mecuk, a military human resource specialist, is battling breast cancer for the third time. She is 28-years-old and the mother of a 7-year-old daughter. Her cancer has metastasized, yet she isn’t living life as if there is an expiration date. The tattoo on her forearm says it all, Stay Strong.
As she reflects, “God gives you what you can handle and I believe that, because I am equipped to deal with this. I feel the Guard has helped shape me for this and prepare me to be mentally tough.”
Sgt. 1st Class Brenda Woods is a five-year breast cancer survivor and her mother is currently being treated for the same disease.
She said, “When I found out I had breast cancer, right away I decided that this was not going to do me. This is not my time.”
“The hardest part is not having her here.” Korleen is the daughter of Iraqi War veteran, Sgt. Brenda Geise. Brenda lost her fight with breast cancer in 2011 when it came back for a second time. Her daughter would give anything to have her back, but her attitude is very much like her mother’s. She is living life to the fullest and is able to find the positive even in the tough moments.
As each woman tells their story, I feel lucky to know these strong women. Each chose a different way to combat the disease. Korleen’s mother chose not to seek chemotherapy and radiation the second time so as to ensure a better quality of life for her last days. Yet, it is apparent that breast cancer did impact each woman in the same way. It brought forward what was important in their life - family.
In the military, service members are responsible for providing oversight for their “battle buddies.” Women band together and form support networks to make it through the rigors of combat. Breast cancer is no different. We must commit to our ethos of “never leaving a fallen comrade” and we must “never quit” until all women know the importance of doing regular self checks, getting mammograms and following up on early detection.
Become a member of the Pink Tank Project by liking the Pink Tank Project on Facebook at www.facebook.com/pinktankproject. Make the promise, today. Make the promise to yourself.