“You have breast cancer…” Maybe you have heard those words with your own ears or maybe someone you love has heard those words. It’s a reality for too many in the greater military family and it can be very difficult to navigate through the treatment and support options after diagnosis. Fortunately, the military offers extensive services and support to breast cancer patients.
Laura is a Navy spouse and mother of 2 young children living in San Diego. She was diagnosed with cancer in her left breast in 2011 and her right breast in 2013. She recalls the excellent support she received from the doctors, nurses and technicians at Balboa Naval Medical Center. She was sent to a social worker on site who helped Laura and her family get the resources that best suited their needs, which included support groups, individual counseling, and family counseling. The Medical Treatment Facility (MTF) also assigned Laura a registered nurse as her Patient Care Coordinator who helped deconflict her appointments in a dozen different departments. In fact, Laura was offered so many different elements of support she couldn’t utilize them all and instead narrowed it down to those services she and family needed most.
Often, active duty members and spouses are reluctant to share personal information with their command or unit. However, your command/unit can’t support you without knowledge. Laura’s husband had already submitted his retirement paperwork and his Command helped him defer his retirement by 6 months in order to complete her treatment. It is possible to be discreet without being secretive. A breast cancer diagnosis or other major illness is not something to hide.
Not everyone is located near a MTF and some may even prefer civilian medical centers. Either way, the same basic framework of support should be available to all breast cancer patients. Knowing the right questions to ask and where to find the information is critical. Here are five, key support elements to remember if you are diagnosed with breast cancer:
-Ask to see a social worker at the treatment facility
– Ask for a nurse Patient Care Coordinator to help manage appointments
– Go to your local Family Service Center for many support options (e.g. FOCUS Project, www.focusproject.org)
– Ensure your sponsor’s unit is made aware of your diagnosis
– Childcare at a base/post CDC could be available to you, at no cost, during your appointments and treatment
– Take a deep breath! This is not a sprint, it’s a marathon.
Laura agrees that early detection is the key to her happy ending. Regular self-exams and annual mammograms are the first step in the fight against cancer. Above all, you must remember you are not alone if you are diagnosed with breast cancer. Friends, family, your sponsor’s unit, and the military health system are there for your treatment and support.
Thank you to Lauren Shedd for sharing Laura’s story and all of the great tips on how to wade through a breast cancer diagnosis.