Story by Julie Moser, Military Spouse, Breast Cancer Survivor & Co-Founder of Pink Warrior Angels
DIAGNOSIS: 3 DAYS PRE-DEPLOYMENT
October 28, 2013 is a date that I will always remember without needing to think about it, like a birthdate or wedding anniversary. October 28, 2013 is the day the words “you have cancer” escaped my doctor’s lips. October 28, 2013 is the day I became a survivor.
In the early morning hours of my husband’s third deployment send-off, I noticed a brown line under my left breast after a shower. It looked like I had burned my skin with a curling iron. My husband said that it probably wasn’t a big deal as long as I didn’t feel any lumps. I didn’t tell him I felt something but promised to get it checked out later in the day with my Primary Care Physician. It turns out I was wrong. I did not have a lump. My doctor found three.
Seasoned military spouses often have to be so strong and resilient that others wonder how we do it. How do we face the challenges that come with a deployment? How do we get by without our spouse for such long periods of time? I can tell you, this was the first time that I did not know what I was going to do without my spouse. I didn’t feel prepared. As military spouses, we are always so afraid that something could happen to our deployed spouse that we forget to worry about ourselves. After I sent the Red Cross message to request my husband to be by my side for what we didn’t know would be a long journey ahead, I went straight to JAG and had paperwork drawn up for my will and medical power of attorney.
The week waiting for my husband to come home was the longest week of my life. Once my husband’s unit started hearing about my diagnosis, they rallied around me…and us.
Over the next 12 months, my life changed. I had six rounds of Chemotherapy (which I stopped after the first dose….and then started back), had a double mastectomy, total hysterectomy, breast expanders, and breast implants for my reconstruction choice. During that year, I had many rare complications. Suddenly, simple household chores – the kids, the dog, lawn care, housecleaning – became a burden on my entire family. In the beginning, there were many people who offered to help. However, when the ‘newness’ of my cancer wore off, there was no one there. When I needed help the most, I found my friends abandoning me and as a military spouse so far from my family, I was abruptly left to juggle it all.
After all, that’s what we military spouses do, right?
ASKING FOR HELP… IT’S HARD. BE A GOOD NEIGHBOR.
I consider myself to be a caring and kindhearted person. I give all that I can for those who need help. When the tables were turned, I had no idea how to ask for help myself. When I was offered assistance, I was too proud to say, “Yes, we need you right now.” How do you explain to someone you barely know that you’re undergoing treatments for cancer, you can’t afford to pay your bills, you need someone to go to the grocery store for your kids, or you need help with childcare? We started charging everything to our credit card and struggled to keep our daughter in dance class. Asking for money isn’t as easy as you would think.
Being a good neighbor in a military community is key to the survival of a deployment. Military spouses are often referenced as Household 6. We take care of everything that is thrown our way during a deployment so that the member that is deployed can continue their mission and stay focused. Be a good neighbor and stop asking how you can help – just help! Bring a meal and drop it off. Drop a card in the mail with a gift card to a local grocery store. Stop by and pay a bill, set up housecleaning services, take the kids for a while so the spouse can rest without having to always be “listening” for their kids. Doing any of these acts of kindness will go a long way, even for the spouse that is not actively involved with the FRG and keeps to themselves.
BECOMING A PINK WARRIOR ANGEL
Once I finally began to find my new “normal,” I began working with Jen Reynolds, a fellow breast cancer survivor I met through Instagram. We wanted to start a nonprofit that would assist those who needed help during their breast cancer journey. From both of our experiences combined, we knew that help comes in many forms.
We established Pink Warrior Angels on July 16, 2015. Our organization prides itself in providing Chemo Care kits, mastectomy care kits, and financial aid to assist with bills and services.
MORE THAN PINK FOOTBALL GAMES
Breast Cancer is more than pink football games in October. It is a year-round issue that needs support after all the pinkwashing is done. No one prepares for cancer. Pink Warrior Angels advocates for knowing your body and insisting on getting mammograms done if you feel something or see changes in your breast. I have met many people that were diagnosed years too late because they were told they were too young. You are never too young to get breast cancer. I had no family history of breast cancer, so thinking I had breast cancer was so far from my mind when I saw my brown line.
Knowing your medical insurance options is also important. Military spouses should know that there are various Tricare options available to them. If you find a lump, your doctor tells you that you are too young for a mammogram, or they refuse to write you a referral, Tricare Standard provides an alternative option. This plan requires a yearly deductible, but no referrals are necessary. Wouldn’t you rather pay a deductible and get the proper testing done than wait for a potential tumor to grow?
FASHION WEEK & PAYING IT FORWARD
Since my cancer diagnosis and starting Pink Warrior Angels, I have done things that I would never have done before. I documented my progression during my reconstruction. I have done many speaking engagements with rooms full of people. I have walked in a Hope on the Runway event in San Antonio in a dress I would have never worn and makeup I would not have picked. I have been honored to be selected, with my Co-founder, to participate in Fashion Week in NY in February 2018.
When Hurricane Harvey hit, I saw another military spouse gathering items for the refugees of Houston. I partnered with Maria Reed to donate 500 pairs of women’s underwear given to us for a contest from Fruit of a Loom. We not only started a hurricane relief fund for the people but for the animals that were displaced. We called this movement Operation Mil Spouse Unite.
Life is too short. Do things outside of your comfort zone. You might like it. Make memories that will last a lifetime. Help others when you can no matter how big or small. Always stay humble and kind
“Alone we can only do so little, together we can do so much”-Helen Keller