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Home : News : News
NEWS | Nov. 1, 2022

Service after cancer: Survivors speak out after diagnoses, surgeries

By Senior Airman Tyler McQuiston 502nd Air Base Wing Public Affairs

“When I first received my diagnosis, I was confused, scared, and worried about what was about to play out,” said Cassandra Cole, a local breast cancer survivor. “When you’re healthy and living life one minute, then the next minute you get a cancer diagnosis, your world just stops.”

Cole is a military spouse and government employee for the Air Force Personnel Center at Joint Base San Antonio-Randolph. She was diagnosed in April 2019, after going to her primary care manager due to pain in her right breast. Her PCM scheduled her for a mammogram and when they discovered a mass, conducted an ultrasound and subsequent biopsy.

Following the biopsy, her doctor performed a prophylactic mastectomy to remove the cancer and Cole later underwent reconfiguration surgery.

“Cancer is hard to navigate,” Cole said. “My family is my rock. Having a support system makes a huge difference and meant the world to me.”

She said there were permanent, life-altering decisions she had to make during these times, and having others to talk to helped tremendously.

Senior Master Sgt. Tameka Brown, chief of staff of Air Education and Training command, echoed the importance of support systems through her own battle with breast cancer.

“My friends and family really rallied around me to provide me comfort daily,” Brown said. “I felt very loved throughout the process.”

Even with her support system, Brown said she struggled to find her place.

“I struggled at first with how to fit in as an active duty service member who was a survivor,” she said. “I couldn’t do PT because of limitations from radiation. I would be in meetings and still have thoughts about the journey I had just overcome.”

Brown was diagnosed in July, 2019, after noticing something was off and began seeing her PCM about breast pain on her left side. Her PCM ran multiple blood tests and ordered a mammogram, but everything came back normal. She was then scheduled for a magnetic resonance imaging, which located a mass.

After a biopsy, she underwent surgery to remove the cancer and completed 20 rounds of radiation treatment.

These two breast cancer survivors are now in remission and said they are excited for their next journey.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates each year in the United States sees about 264,000 cases of breast cancer diagnosed in women and about 2,400 in men.

“I cannot stress the importance of mammograms,” Cole said. “Cancer doesn’t care about your age or your family history, so listen to your body. Early detection saved my life.”

“It’s okay to feel your emotions and grieve the person you once were,” Brown said. “I have found peace and a new outlook on life since my diagnosis in 2019 and I know the best is yet to come.”