FALLS CHURCH, Va.- Last year, this time, 1st LT Hannah Wright was a busy lady. The executive officer (XO) was training at Fort Johnson Louisianna with her unit, the 22nd Infantry 3rd Brigade, 10th Mountain Division. Out of the blue, her training got derailed, and so did her life until she got to the Brooke Army Medical Center Soldier Recovery Unit.
“It was during our Expert Infantry Soldier and Field Medical Badge train up when they found the tumor, but at the time, they didn’t know it was a tumor. It took a surgery that I put off until blocked leave and a fantastic surgeon to find it and realize that it was cancer,” said the 26-year-old.
She says it was out of the ordinary that her stomach hurt on a run one day. “I thought it was stomach cramps, or maybe I ate something bad, maybe even a running stitch.”
The next day, she couldn’t even get ready for work without lying down because the pain was so bad. She ignored it and continued training. “It wasn’t until the 3rd day that her Company Medic Sgt Covell, who she credits with saving her life, insisted she go to the hospital. “She sat with me in the hospital for 5 hours. After tests, the doctor confirmed they found a mass."
My 1st Doctor, Dr Daisy Conduah, who was terrific, said it looked fluid-filled and surgery would correct it. The mass was 8.5 cm, about the size of an orange. She was scheduled for imaging next week, but her EIB (Expert Infantryman Badge) testing was next week. “Of course, I rescheduled it. I had testing. I did my twelve-mile ruck with this mass in me and completed it. I have to say, it is my greatest accomplishment.”
She says by that point, she wasn’t having to lie down all the time and thought maybe it was not that bad. She was uncomfortable but was willing to Soldier through the pain. She now admits it wasn’t the best choice.
Wright had her first surgery in December and convalesced at home with her parents in Austin, Texas. She said it went well and was routine, and her doc told her they would send the mass off to pathology and not to worry. “January 2nd, I wrote down in a notebook everything I wanted to accomplish this year like I wanted to finish my XO time; I wrote out when I wanted to go to Ranger school again. I had plans.”
Two days later, she got a call to meet the doctor at Brooke Army Medical Center. “I was diagnosed with stage 1 Clear Cell Carcinoma of the ovary.”
Wright went through a series of emotions. Ever the Soldier, the first thought in her mind shouldn’t surprise anyone. “I wondered if I could still go to Ranger school,” she laughed. “But next, I wondered if I could be with my company again, and then it hit me…I wondered if I could still be in the Army.”
She would have to have another surgery one week later and, in the process, say goodbye to her company back in Louisiana, where she had been the Platoon leader and an XO for two years.
“I had my 2nd surgery at BAMC. I had the best gynecological oncologist at Fort Sam, Dr Jasmine Han. She walked me through my options and the process, and a week after my diagnosis, I was in surgery.”
Wright required six rounds of chemotherapy treatment and, in March of 2023, was assigned to the Soldier Recovery Unit at BAMC. “It was the best move I could make. When we discussed the SRU, I asked Dr. Han if people with my condition could stay in the Army. What she said truly helped me conceptualize the SRU. She said I had taken care of the Army, and now it was time for the Army to take care of me.”
During this phase of her treatment, she lost her hair, eyebrows, and eyelashes. “I had attempted Ranger school in December 2020, so I shaved my head. At least I was aware what shape my head was- I could at least envision that,” she says confidently.
She never envisioned the support she would receive from the Soldier Recovery Unit.
“Lorraine Currow, the recreational therapist, is amazing! She worked with me when I couldn’t come in and be around people because I was immune compromised. She would email and call me with things to do to take my mind off my chemo.”
In June, when she felt comfortable being around others, she was able to experience the SRU full throttle.
“Lorraine asked me if I wanted to try archery, and I thought, why not? I haven’t since I was a kid. Guess what? I am pretty good at it, and they are willing to continue working with me in hopes I can go to the Army Trials in Spring. Never thought that would happen to me.”
She also never thought Cancer would happen to her either. Wright is hopeful to return to duty and counts every day as a blessing. She has a message for other soldiers who ignore pain. Get checked! If you feel something is not right, follow your gut and go. And, as much as it will suck that you have to pull yourself out of your job, and you may be at the lowest point in your life, the SRU is a fantastic place to find your purpose and drive and use your competitive spirit again.”
In the long run, Wright knows she is right where she needs to be.
“I am so blessed to be with this group. There is no shame in taking time to get back to where I was. Even if I don’t get back to where I was, there is no shame in finding the new me.”