I was asked to share my story in hopes to connect with fellow military spouses who might be going through a similar situation. Sometimes, all it takes is that extra reassurance that no matter what, You are strong, You are a fighter, and You can do and get through anything that comes your way, even cancer.
My Survivor Story
Eight and a half years ago, my husband and I were stationed at Fort Knox, KY and he was taking command of a Battery. Everything was going great! We purchased a home, made new friends, and we were trying to start a family. Then, I went to a doctor’s appointment that would change our lives forever.
The doctor did a breast exam on me and found a lump in my right breast. I was then sent to have a mammogram and finally a biopsy on November 9, 2009. It determined I had invasive ductile carcinoma stage 2. After the diagnosis, I was sent to Louisville, KY to meet up with a team of doctors, who I call my life savers, to begin the process of getting rid of the cancer and making sure it never returns.
On December 15, 2009 I had a bilateral double mastectomy, which by far has been the worst surgery I have ever had physically and emotionally. Physically, I had to learn how to sit up, breathe, and so forth and had drains coming out from my chest. In addition to the removal, I had 5 lipoids taken out of the right arm. This left a huge scar under my right armpit and underneath my arm was completely numb. Emotionally, I could not look down at my chest, not yet. I could not come to the realization that one of the major things that identifies me as a woman was gone and this life now was my new normal.
After the recovery of the surgery, I thought life was going to be okay until they notified me of one more hurdle to jump through. The doctors said for prevention purposes, they needed me to complete one and a half years of chemotherapy, thirty-three rounds of radiation treatments, and five reconstructive surgeries. This news all came to the surface while my husband also informed me he would be deploying to Afghanistan for a year. You can just imagine what was going through my head. I had lost my breasts, I was going to lose my hair, gain weight from the steroids, pretty much not look like myself, and now I would have to deal with the emotions of a deployment. I felt like my whole world was disappearing. Then, I finally sat down with myself and said “you can do this.” That was all I needed and I was ready to take everything on.
My husband deployed right after Christmas. My family and my Army family stepped in to help with my treatments and surgeries while he was away. With all of that said, I was not done with setting goals for myself while my husband was deployed. While having the surgeries and treatments, I decided to go back to school and get my Masters degree and take up running. Many people thought I was crazy, but this was the best decision for me at the time. I needed to find a way to release the stress of my day-to-day life and what better way than to expand my education and run the open roads. I finished my degree in 1 ½ years and joined a running group. I still run to this day, and will be completing my 4th marathon very soon in Pittsburgh.
I’m proud to say this November will be my 9-year survivor day. In addition, because of the incredible research doctors are doing and have done, they have discovered a new gene which my family was tested for and it came back positive that links to breast cancer. Finally, after all these years, we have an answer as to why my grandmother, my mother, and myself all got the same type of breast cancer and how I can make and take the precautionary measures for my daughters to make sure they never have to go through what I went through.
I am sharing my story because I want others to know that cancer is not a death sentence. Myself, my mother, and countless others are living proof. I am here living life to the fullest with my family and friends, as well as, a mother to 2 incredibly beautiful little girls who are my miracle babies. We conceived them naturally after going through all of my treatments and surgeries. I am lucky to be alive and sitting here writing you the short version of my story. The reason I am a survivor is because of early detection. If it were not for me going to the doctor on a regular basis, the outcome might not be what it is today. Early detection saved my life and it can save yours. “When in doubt, get it checked out.” I am a firm believer in that now more than ever. Better to know and have your mind put to ease, than walking around worried and scared. It only takes 5 or so minutes, in the shower, getting dressed, whatever to do a self-exam on yourself.
For military spouses who are about to or going through exactly what I went through, know there is light at the end of the tunnel. The road is not going to be easy, but you have something special within you. You are a military spouse, which makes you strong and a fighter. Your family and friends will get you through the worst days of your life and will also get you to the other end of the rainbow!
Thank you for your time and for reading my story. I hope it has put your mind at ease, inspired you to develop strength, and encouraged you to go to the doctor and get checked out!
Josie Terry is a 36-year-old Army brat, 10-year Army wife, 4-time marathon runner, mother of 2 little girls, and last but not least an 8 ½ year breast cancer survivor.
© Strength 4 Spouses LLC, 2018.