By Annette Gomes, Warrior Care and Transition June 6, 2017
It's the dreaded six letter word we often cringe at when spoken out loud, cancer.
In April of 2013, the dreaded word surfaced when Sgt. Kawaiola Nahale found a lump in her breast. After making a doctor's appointment, an oncology nurse confirmed her suspicion. Nahale was diagnosed with breast cancer. Now four years later, she reflects on her journey as we celebrate National Cancer Survivor Day.
"My first thought was 'stupid cancer,' but it's because of it that I live my life to the fullest every day. I enjoy life. I do have bad days and I have bad cancer days, but I don't let it stop me from living. I've changed my lifestyle and my outlook. I try to be resilient every day and live every moment," said Nahale.
After receiving a mastectomy and lumpectomy, she was assigned to the Warrior Transition Unit at Schofield Barracks, Hawaii, where she stayed for a year and half as she underwent treatment and recovered.
"It was a good unit to heal in. The cadre and staff cared for their Soldiers and my immediate chain of command took excellent care of me. Laughter played an important role as well. It really is an amazing medicine. Laughing and God, you can't go wrong with that combination," she said.
During her recovery period, she embraced adaptive reconditioning sports; most notably swimming. Nahale says one of her biggest battles was not in a hospital, but the ocean. The native Hawaiian was told she would have to temporarily put swimming on the backburner. Having to give up something she has done since she was one month old was hard on her.
"It's a tradition here in Hawaii to take your baby to the ocean at that age and cleanse them. I guess you could say it was love at first cleansing. I've been a little fish since then," Nahale laughed. "The water is my happy place. I wasn't allowed to go into the water for a year after my final surgery so I wouldn't get my incisions infected. They were so close to a few major organs that the doctors thought it was safer if I didn't go. So if I had a bad day and had some time, instead of swimming, I would sit next to the ocean and just be at peace with what I was going through," she said.
Two years later, during the 2015 Department of Defense Warrior Games, while in her place of peace, Nahale brought home several medals in the swimming events including gold in the Women's 100-meter freestyle and silver in the Women's 50-meter backstroke events. During the 2016 DoD Warrior Games at West Point, she won gold medal in the 200 meter relay and a silver in the women's 50-yard freestyle. This year, the financial analyst is taking a break, opting to sit on the sidelines and be a cheerleader for her fellow Soldiers.
"I've got the pom-poms and cowbell ready!" Nahale laughed.
Now in her fourth year of remission, Nahale is taking it one day at a time while cherishing each moment with a strong message for others who may face her nemesis.
"Of course I want to grow in my civilian and military career, see my daughter graduate college, one day travel to Italy, but for right now I just want to enjoy the moments I get to live. Breathe it all in and blow all the bubbles. Take each day as it comes. You have to stare cancer down. Don't let it get you. Beat the crap out of it!"