My name is Amanda Atwell. I am a military spouse and a cancer warrior! I came across your site while looking for information to share at our military installation’s Relay for Life event scheduled on August first. I invite you to read my story (below) but it has also changed. Most recently (yesterday) I was also diagnosed with an ovarian mass that is scheduled for removal (the entire ovary looks bad) in the next few weeks. Whatever support you could lend would be wonderful. So you are aware, the article relates to the development of a new cancer support group that started here at Spangdahlem AF, Germany only two months ago. Please feel free to reach out. I am happy to answer any questions you may have.
Cheers, Amanda Atwell
If someone were to ask me why we started this group I guess the first thing that comes to mind is hearing you have the “c”word sucks. Fear, anger, shock, denial, disgust, hurt, fury, and sadness all flash through your mind as you try to remain composed and attempt to process what you have just heard. I’ll never forget the day I heard those words. Let me give you a little background about my experience first.
My mother (a retired military spouse and my life-long cheerleader) and I have always been very close. In July 2011, while my husband was deployed in Afghanistan, I found out that my mother had been diagnosed with two types of bilateral breast cancer. Eager to run to her side I remained home because the same day my husband returned home from deployment she underwent her double mastectomy procedure. Life moved on and my mother did very well. Her hope and optimism were inspiring, but only four short months later she was diagnosed with uterine cancer. Needless to say the emotional toll of hearing those words was devastating to my family so I went home. After a short time my mother was back to showing the world what it meant to put on her “big-girl panties” and was ready to come for a visit. She said she needed a vacation and I couldn’t have agreed more. In October 2012, we drank wine and revisited all of the places I had grown up during my youth while living in Germany. We had a wonderful time and were lamenting her departing the following weekend when suddenly she froze in front of me, “Amanda, I think I feel something in my neck. Do you feel that?” I gave her a huge hug and said, “Mom, it’s natural to be worried given everything you’ve been through. Have it checked when you get back but I feel certain it will be nothing.” My famous last words of doubt, she left the following weekend and three days after her return to the United States she was diagnosed with thyroid cancer.
Why am I sharing this? Well, after four cancers in 18-months, my mother called asking me to follow up on a small thyroid mass a women’s health nurse had identified nearly 18-months before in my neck. In my defense, I had tried to have the mass biopsied but at 0.9 mm but they weren’t too happy about doing it. After five needle attempts the doctor said it was too small to withdraw enough tissue but, given my age it was likely to be nothing. Anyway, in order to appease my mother I headed to LRMC to have my “mass” re-examined. During my trip there all I could think was, I’m sure this is a waste of time but at least I can head to the KMC. In August 2013, that mass had grown to 1.9 mm and I was diagnosed with metastatic thyroid cancer at the age of 38.
“I’m sorry you have cancer.” I remember it clearly. I was standing in my bedroom when I received the call. Hearing those words literally sent me to the floor. Imagine one minute everything is fine and the next you hear you THAT. You think, “WHAT? I have cancer?” Feeling fear, anger, shock, denial, disgust, hurt, fury, and sadness…How is that possible? What does that mean? How am I going to tell my husband? How am I going to tell my kids? Am I going to die? I now see that these are all fair questions after living through what I call the moment that changes your life. What I mean is this, at that single moment, while being bombarded with raw emotion, you suddenly realize what’s important and everything changes. There’s just no other way to describe it…
After complications the weeks following the diagnosis and treatment I found myself beginning to withdraw and starting to wallow in self-pity. Despite my background in mental health, it took encouragement from my mother, my husband, and my friends to regain optimism and strength. I started to express my feelings and share my experiences and as I did so I began to realize that I was not the only person on Spangdahlem dealing with cancer. The more I opened up the more I learned about other people and their past and present battles with cancer. To be honest, I was baffled by the number of cases and equally amazed by the similarities in our experiences. In any case one conversation led to two, which led to three, and so on. It became obvious that there was a need to have a group that allowed people to talk about what was going on in their lives. This is how the idea for this support group began. Shared experiences and a mutual need to share our stories with other people who can relate. It is clear that no one should have to deal with cancer alone: not you, your spouse, your kids, or anyone else who is close to you. As fighters and survivors we learn and support one another. We know our stories will be different but we hope this group will help model strength and provide support as we work through the past, the present, and deal with whatever the future may send spiraling at us.
Where are we now? My mother (who is still fighting her own cancer battle) is a true inspiration and has modeled what my family and I now call, “a warrior spirit.” That is the desire to fight and never give up. As for me, I’m not even a year from my cancer diagnosis. I had a complete thyroidectomy in September 2013 and intensive inpatient radioactive iodine therapy in November 2013. While managing appointments, medication adjustments, body scans, and with more treatments on the rise, I have developed my own warrior spirit and am also prepared to fight. I have a husband, three young daughters, and a career. Life moves on, it’s that simple. If I’m honest with myself, what’s my alternative? Therefore, in managing my diagnosis I have made two a simple choices: I will fight and cancer will NOT define me. I will choose my path and will face whatever is thrown at me. Now, you may wonder if I do this with grace. The truth is, not always. There are “good” days and “bad” days, but at least I’m here to live them, right? I draw my strength from a strong support system and a belief that humor is fundamental in happiness. So, I find the joys in life (like coaching soccer) and try to focus my positive energy there. I live my life choosing to fight, thankful for each day that I am here to influence others, loving my husband, and joyful to be able watch my children grow. It’s just that simple.
The informational content of this article is intended to convey a personal experience and, because every person’s experience is unique, should not be relied upon as a substitute for professional healthcare advice.
This story is intended to convey a personal experience and, because every person’s experience is unique, should not be relied upon as a substitute for professional healthcare advice.