By Whitney Delbridge Nichels, Army Warrior Care and TransitionApril 2, 2018
ARLINGTON, Va. -- When Army veteran Monemany Xaysana walks into a room, the first thing you notice is her contagious smile. The Virginia native has a bubbly personality that stands in contrast to the true grit she's shown in showcasing the obstacles life has thrown her way.
A few years ago, Xaysana -- who goes by "Mimi" -- was a typical college student: preparing to graduate from George Mason University with a degree in sociology and trying to figure out her next steps.
"All I knew was school," Xaysana said. "After I got my bachelors, I was like, 'What do I want to do now?'"
Unsure about pursuing the additional education and clinical work required to advance in sociology, Xaysana sought the advice of her boyfriend at the time -- a Marine -- who encouraged her to join military.
"I always wanted to help people. So I figured what better way than joining the coolest team ever?" Xaysana laughed.
It was a path less traveled within her family. Her parents immigrated to the United States from Laos, making her a first generation American. Nonetheless, she accepted the call to serve without hesitation.
Unfortunately, her military career ended before she ever made it to her unit.
After completing basic training in 2016, she found herself with a strange, constant pain in her left knee.
"I thought maybe I just needed to stretch out, maybe I was sore," Xaysana said.
An x-ray revealed a mass growing in her leg. At 24 years old, Xaysana was diagnosed with osteosarcoma, a cancer typically seen in children that begins in the bones.
She credits her short stint in the Army with helping her catch her diagnosis in time.
"It was a blessing in disguise," Xaysana said. "Who knows when I would have found the cancer if I had just been home sitting on the couch."
As she began her treatment, doctors gave Xaysana a few options which included chemotherapy, limb salvage and amputation of her leg.
"It was a big dynamic change with my family. They're very old fashioned and traditional, so it was a change for them to have to listen to me. It had to be my decision and I decided the amputation was best for me," she said.
Within a short time, Xaysana was back on two feet thanks to a prosthetic leg. "I can run again, I can jump. It was the right choice."
While she worked to adjust to the physical changes, those around her at the Joint Base San Antonio Warrior Transition Battalion helped her adjust mentally.
"Being at JBSA, seeing other people going through this same process, helped me a lot. I decided if they can do it, I know I can get through it," she said.
Cadre and staff at the Warrior Transition Battalion helped her adjust by introducing her to recreational therapy and adaptive sports. She took to her newfound hobbies so well, she earned a trip to the 2018 Army Trials, winning medals in multiple sports.
"The WTB saved me. It was the best way for me to get in the right mindsight. I'm so glad that I'm alive and breathing and I have all this support. I try to take advantage of every opportunity in front of me," she said.
As she presses forward into the new chapter of her life, she is befriending and inspiring other Soldiers in transition, something that fills Xaysana with a sense of pride.
"I feel like I'm still growing as an individual and trying to find my new normal. So, if people find that to be inspiring, it's very humbling. It's an honor."