Stronger than Cancer

Stronger than Cancer

by Shellie Daniels
Kadena Air Base

KADENA AIR BASE, Japan --  Spending Valentine’s Day in Oahu, Hawaii, probably sounds like a dream to many people. Beautiful beaches, warm sunshine, balmy breezes and world class sunsets all work together to make this one very romantic locale.

However, my circumstances were neither convenient nor romantic. My husband and I were there so I could begin my nine-month treatment plan against breast cancer.

Our story actually begins seven months prior, on the Fourth of July, 2015. We were stationed on Kadena Air Base—our fourth assignment with the U.S. Air Force. I noticed a small red area on my skin about the size of a pencil eraser. Of course any time the words “lump” and “breast” are used in the same thought pattern, the first thing that comes to mind is cancer.

I made an appointment and had both a mammogram and an ultrasound exam done.
Nothing of concern was found; however, the red spot and the lump did not go away, so I went back to my primary care physician to seek further treatment.

During this time, my husband Josh deployed to the Middle East and was scheduled to be away for six months. “No problem,” I thought-- we had endured deployments before, and I could handle this one too.

My doctor recommended I see a dermatologist, and in early December he did a punch biopsy. On December 23, 2015, I received a call asking me to come in for the results of the biopsy.

My world came crashing down when the doctor confirmed what I had suspected all along—cancer.

I had Christmas with our two young children as if nothing were wrong. We baked cookies for Santa Claus, had dinner Christmas Eve with friends, and then I tucked them in, not knowing if I would even be around for their next Christmas.

Waiting the 96 hours until the clinic reopened was the worst 96 hours of my entire life.

The next day, Josh and I were reunited and scheduled to depart for Tripler Army Medical Center in Hawaii the following week for treatment.

My mother and stepfather arrived in Okinawa January 1, 2016, to take care of our children, and Josh and I were on a flight two days later.

Once in Hawaii, I was introduced to my treatment team. Eventually, the second ultrasound and magnetic resonance imaging, MRI, actually showed the tumor. The treatment plan we chose involved unilateral mastectomy. I was taking no chances.

On January 15, 2016, I went into surgery for the first time.

In total, I spent almost two months having and recovering from four surgeries in order to get rid of the cancer which had made it to my lymph nodes. I was going to be receiving 16 rounds of chemo once I had healed enough.

Meanwhile, back in Japan, Josh’s mother had taken over keeping our children. Due to the extent of my treatment, she ended up having to pack up our household goods, sell our cars and physically move with our children to San Antonio, Texas, where we would eventually be stationed so I could finish my treatment. We had not seen our children in 57 days.

We never returned to Japan. We never had the chance to say goodbye to our friends and coworkers; we had to rely entirely on their love and friendship to get our family reunited.

Once in Texas, I began the first of 16 chemotherapy treatments at the San Antonio Military Medical Center. I lost all of my hair about two weeks into it. But I’m stronger than cancer.

My loving husband and children, along with family, friends, and several nurses met in the chemo room on July 19, 2016, when I rang the victory bell signifying the completion of the chemo portion of my treatment.

After a brief vacation with my family, I was back at it to begin six weeks of daily radiation treatments. Once again, my family was there when I had my last dose of radiation, and we put our handprints on the wall alongside all those others who had completed their radiation treatments.

At the present, there is no evidence of disease and I am cancer free.

Our story has many more chapters to be written; the cancer battle was just an event in the adventure known as life.

This story was full of love; from my husband who never left my side, took all the notes at the doctor visits because I was so overwhelmed with what they were saying, held me when I cried, accepted me when I lost my hair and my breasts; from my children who cheered for me when I won the battle, our family and friends who dropped everything to help and love us.

People are put in our lives for a reason, and I am forever grateful for the love I was shown during this entire process.

Love is definitely stronger than any cancer, and it’s something cancer cannot take from you.

Editor’s Note: U.S. Air Force Maj. Josh Daniels is the former Chief of Public Affairs for the 18th Wing Public Affairs office on Kadena Air Base, Japan.

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