Breast cancer awareness events pinpoint focus on awareness, hope

By Angie ThorneOctober 30, 2023

Breast cancer awareness events pinpoint focus on awareness, hope
1 / 2 Show Caption + Hide Caption – Members of the Fort Johnson community gather in the early morning hours of Oct. 17 to participate in the Go Pink Run. (Photo Credit: Angie Thorne) VIEW ORIGINAL
Breast cancer awareness events pinpoint focus on awareness, hope
2 / 2 Show Caption + Hide Caption – Survivors gather to cut the cake at the Breast Cancer Awareness Luncheon Oct. 18. (Photo Credit: Angie Thorne) VIEW ORIGINAL

Fort Johnson, La. — Breast cancer is one of the most common cancers in women in the United States. It accounts for about 30% of all new cancers each year. An estimated 297,790 new cases of invasive breast cancer will be diagnosed in 2023 and about 43,700 will die from the disease.

That means it’s imperative to get the word out about breast cancer. October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month and Fort Johnson answered the call with informative signs, flyers, news stories, podcasts and events such as the Go Pink Run breast cancer awareness run/walk and breast cancer luncheon to highlight the importance of getting the word out about this deadly disease.

1st Sgt. Mauricio Gonzalez was up early Oct. 17, along with quite a few other members of the Fort Johnson community including installation leadership, Soldiers, Family members and breast cancer survivors, as they prepared to take part in the run. Gonzalez, like many others at the run, had a personal connection with breast cancer. Though, it’s not what one might think. It wasn’t his sister, mom or daughters who had a brush with this devastating disease, but him.

“At one point, I thought I had breast cancer. It was scary and awkward going to the doctor’s office and being the only male in the waiting room. I got looks from the women like they were wondering what I was doing there, but I didn’t hesitate to have it checked out,” Gonzalez said. “Thankfully, my results came back clear.”

Running in the race is Gonzalez’s way to support awareness. Though less than 1% of breast cancer diagnoses are found in men, that’s no reason to not be aware of the disease. “As a leader in the military, I feel it’s important to set an example for my young female and male Soldiers,” Gonzalez said. “I always try to encourage the importance of self-examination and early detection because nobody ever thinks it’s going to happen to them.”

One out of 833 men will develop breast cancer. If detected early, male breast cancer has a five year survival rate of 100%.

Currently there are more than four million breast cancer survivors in the United States. That includes those still being treated and those who have completed treatment.

Many local breast cancer survivors were honored at the Breast Cancer Awareness Month Luncheon held Oct. 18 at the Warrior Center. The event was also attended by Fort Johnson leadership, Family members and those supporting breast cancer awareness.

Syble McGrew, a Red Cross volunteer at Bayne-Jones Army Community Hospital, is a breast cancer survivor and attended the luncheon. McGrew had stage one breast cancer.

“That’s not as bad as some of the others attending today, but it was still a tough battle. It was my personal fight and I won,” McGrew said. “I still keep an eye on it with follow-ups and so far, so good.”

An event like this keeps people focused on what’s important.

“It keeps myself and others proud of being the warriors we are,” McGrew said.

Angela DeGray, retired military spouse, was diagnosed with triple negative breast cancer – stage one. She underwent radiation and chemotherapy from April through August in 2022.

“Chemo was a real devil, but I came out the angel in that fight. I lost weight I didn’t have to lose, as well as my hair. I also went through 12 sessions of radiation and had a partial mastectomy,” DeGray said.

DeGray’s faith and Family were a huge part of her support system.

“They made me strong and made me think, ‘bring it on,’” DeGray said.

DeGray, like McGrew, continues with her follow-up doctor visits.

“My last check-up they found another lump. I go back at the end of this month to find out what that’s all about,” DeGray said. “Whatever they say, I’m ready for the fight.”

That fighting spirit, along with hope, are a couple of the things Dr. Phyllis Mason, chief medical officer at Natchitoches Regional Medical Center, discussed as one of the guest speakers at the event.

She began with the story of how breast cancer’s pink ribbon campaign came to be, as well as a some sobering statistics.

“All the statistics I have mentioned in relation to breast cancer are about intellect. They touch your head, not your heart. But there is value in the pink ribbon campaign because it touches your heart. Heart and emotion is where I believe powerful decisions are made. They can change the trajectory of an issue. It’s where hope is born. There is no hope in statistics, but when you see the pink ribbon there is hope,” Mason said. “Remember, there is a place for statistics, but they don’t reflect what’s really important, the people behind the stats.”

Mason brought up another campaign that seemingly has nothing to do with breast cancer. She said she loves commercials and she used the Modelo beer campaign as an analogy for the “fighting spirit” of those diagnosed with the disease.

“This campaign highlights people who chose the life of a fighter. You didn’t have a choice when breast cancer chose you, but I would be willing to bet that the survivors in this room have chosen to live the life of a fighter. You don’t just fight the cancer. Some of you fight just to get up every day. Some of you fight to go to one more chemo or radiation treatment. Some of you fight to keep your hope alive. Some of you fight so instinctively that you those around you don’t even know you’re fighting,” Mason said.

Mason ended with a twist on the beer campaign’s words.

“The pink ribbon was made for you. The pink ribbon is the mark of a fighter,” Mason said.

If a person feels something unusual during a breast self-examination, they should make an appointment to get it checked out, but even if they don’t feel anything, the American Cancer Society recommends a screening mammography every year for women ages 50-54 and every 1-2 years for women ages 55 and older.