JOINT BASE ANDREWS, Md. —
Breast cancer survivors Bettye Tompkins and Nila Straka were invited to share their stories of battling and overcoming the disease during the 11th Medical Group breast cancer awareness event here, Oct. 18.
They said the keys to overcoming their hardships were: empowering themselves through education, relying on a support system, and sharing what they’ve learned with others.
“What many people don’t realize is this: you live with breast cancer; it’s never cured, it’s only in remission,” Straka said.
Tompkins noted her top priorities following her initial cancer diagnosis were to depend on her religious beliefs for confirmation that she would be healed and to empower herself by seeking education on the matter.
“I wanted to be able to advocate for myself,” she said. “So I asked as many questions as possible and read everything I could find on it so I could make sound decisions based on the cancer that I had.”
The survivors’ stories overlapped when speaking of family members and friends who had mixed reactions to their diagnosis and treatment. They spoke about people who cried, prayed, made them laugh, kept them company, and some who even grew distant. They described these people as their supporters and noted that although it was challenging they grew to realize and accept the varying ways people supported them.
For both of them, having a support group was a key element in their fight against cancer.
Straka, now 12 years in remission, is the co-director of a breast cancer support group in southern Maryland where she arms others who’ve been diagnosed with information and support.
“I have friends who celebrate the day of their diagnosis as the day they were reborn,” she said. “I think at that time and any time we’re faced with adversity, life causes us to slow down and stop trying to control the things you can’t control, just enjoy the things that you can.”