By Maj. Thomas Cieslak (82nd Airborne)December 11, 2019
Chanel Menges remembers sitting in the lobby of the University of North Chapel Hill Hospital one Christmas eve, feeling sick and sorry for herself when she met a bald, 2 year-old little girl. Speaking to child's mother, Menges learned the girl just completed chemotherapy for a softball sized neuroblastoma on her kidney; the child also required sedatives each session to stay still enough for treatment.
It hit Menges, an Army 1st Lt., hard. If that little girl was excited to start every day because it was not the only time she was forced to sleep or feel sick, Menges knew she could dig deep within herself to find a positive attitude despite her circumstances.
Menges, a Paratrooper assigned to 5th Squadron, 73rd Cavalry Regiment, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division overcame cancer and months of treatment to deploy to Afghanistan with the brigade in early Summer of 2019 from Fort Bragg, North Carolina.
Originally from Boise, Idaho, Menges was diagnosed with Adenoid Carcinoma, a rare form of cancer affecting glandular tissue. In early October 2018, she underwent surgery to remove a plum-sized tumor and endured over 3 months of radiation therapy.
"Learning how to thrive with my new normal has been difficult. I'd be lying if I didn't think about cancer coming back every day but this year has been full of milestones," says Menges.
Paratroopers of the unit were by her side when she was diagnosed and when she received her survivor trophy after completing treatment. They delivered dinner to her house, let her couch surf in their living rooms during Buffalo Bills games and drove her to and from treatment sessions.
Menges returned to the Squadron in February 2019. While continuing her recovery, she became responsible for coordinating and tracking Static-Line Airborne Operations in and around Fort Bragg.
"Fifth Squadron, 73rd Cavalry Regiment is a special organization and I have always been proud to be a part of this team. Throughout cancer treatment my leadership, peers and soldiers ensured I was never alone and I was motivated in my sickest days to be a part of the team again," said Menges.
"I stayed at the SECU Family House and countless members from the Squadron made the hour-long trip to visit me and ensure I was always part of the team. Needless to say, I couldn't have asked for a better team to fight alongside."
On March 29, 2019, the Department of Defense announced her unit's deployment to Afghanistan in the summer in support of Operations Resolute Support and Freedom's Sentinel. Menges set her goal and her sights on deploying. Through a coordinated effort between the brigade's medical providers and experts at UNC, she achieved her objective.
Now in Afghanistan, Menges continues to fill critical roles within her Squadron by coordinating life support for deployed service members as wekk as personnel accountability and records upkeep.
"I have followed in my big brother's footsteps my entire life. We went to college together, served at Fort Benning together and I had the opportunity to deploy to a base he once served at in 2014," says Menges about where she draws inspiration. "The best advice he gave me as a freshman ROTC Cadet shivering from exposure to 15 degree weather following a CWST [swim survival test] was, "stop feeling sorry for yourself." There are so many instances where those words have rung in my head and as I continue to make the comeback from cancer treatment, his advice couldn't be more true."