Resilient Soldier, Cancer survivor to start support group
July 2, 2010
FORT BELVOIR, Va. - Soldiers constantly train in realistic environments, under realistic circumstances to make sure they are as ready as possible for any situation. However, nothing could have prepared Spc. Jessica Printy for the news she received at Camp Humphreys, South Korea.
Printy was constantly tired and sick when she was 19.
"I started having chest pain in January of 2008. I felt like the wind was knocked out of me. It was hard to run, hard to focus on work, even with caffeine and energy drinks," Printy said.
It wasn't until she failed a physical fitness test that she thought something was severely wrong.
"Normally I run about a 15-16 minute two-mile and I failed it miserable, at about 28 minutes," Printy said. "I went to sick call, and told the doctor that I knew something was wrong. I told him about my symptoms, and he decided to get some blood work done, as well as an x-ray of my chest due to chest pain and difficulty breathing."
Two hours later the phone rang.
"He called me back in a panic and told me to get back to the hospital immediately. He told me it was either tuberculosis or cancer," Printy said.
The cancer was later diagnosed at Walter Reed Army Medical Center as Hodgkin's Lymphoma and it was Stage 4B. Stage four cancers have often metastasized, or spread to other organs or throughout the body.
"I was able to get through it because of my faith and my family. At 19, which is when I was diagnosed, I had a lot more to give. I was relatively healthy before and in great shape. Those things were all on my side," Printy said.
Printy went through Adriamycin, Bleomycin, Viznblastine, and Dacarbazine treatments more commonly called ABVD.
"It's a very aggressive chemotherapy grouping. But, really, what chemo isn't aggressive on the human body'" Printy asked. "Chemotherapy treatments are normally given in cycles; mine was six cycles or six months. When the doctors realized that the chemo wasn't working like it should, they preceded to start me in radiation therapy which was five days a week for about a month."
Printy hopes that by sharing her story others will be motivated to seek help.
"I met a woman when I was in radiation when I went to a dermatology appointment at DeWitt," said Printy. "She looked at my cancer cap and asked me about chemo and radiation. I knew she was more than just curious. Later she told me that she was getting screened for breast cancer, it was then I realized that something needed to be done."
Printy recognizes what a vital role the Army played in her recovery.
"The Army gave me the best treatment I could receive. If I had not joined the Army I am not even sure how things would have played out," Printy said.
As part of the Army family, Printy wants her family including Defense Department civilians, retirees, Soldiers and their families to have a place on Belvoir to go to for support. The support group would be for all cancer patients and survivors.
"Soldiers, dependents, and DOD employees should have a place to go and talk about being a cancer survivor, or talk about their current treatment," said Printy. "After all, they say that people going through the same event grow a bond so strong they become family. I think every base should have that extension, or the option to talk about worries or concerns even if they are cancer free and in remission. There isn't one day that I don't wonder if when I get a pain that reminds me of my symptoms, prior to knowing I had cancer, and wonder if its back. I can imagine that several other cancer patients do the same."
Printy said she received a lot of support from her family, but support from other patients was vital because they knew what she was going through.
"My husband was supportive and tried very hard to balance being a Soldier himself and taking care of his family," said Printy. "For him it was a constant struggle. My family would also come up during the harder times of treatment and sit with me holding my hand. The most help I received was from other cancer patients that I would see every time in treatment. They were easy to talk to because we all were feeling the same way, and in some aspects going through the same things."
Printy has her own advice to share about being diagnosed with Cancer.
"When you go through something that aggressive and scary, you really just have to take it a day at a time," Printy said. "That's all you can do. If you try and look too far ahead you will just get overwhelmed. Some days you would get treatments because your white blood counts were up and sometimes you wouldn't because they were so low. It's really just a fact that every cancer patient has gone through, so it's just easier to take it one day at a time."
Getting a cancer diagnosis is an isolating experience; No one expects to get a life-threatening disease no matter what their age or health. Printy was among those.
"I never could have foreseen myself getting cancer, and I think the Army really needs to start doing annual screenings beyond just the annual physical so that cancer does not get to a stage 4, or before it is too late to do anything," said Printy.