Female Soldier Fight Continues When She Returns Home
I was diagnosed with Ewing Sarcoma Cancer in 2009 at 24-years-old. I was fresh out of Basic Training for the Army and barely knew the real reason why we were still in Iraq. When I got to my first unit at Fort Carson, I was informed that the unit I was attached to had just deployed to Iraq. That news alone threw me for a loop. I was not only far away from my family in a different State, but now I had to put all my crammed training from Basic and AIT to use. I was not ready to fight for my country; I at least wanted to break into my new boots and fill out my baggy uniform. I thought only seasoned Soldiers went to war, not people like me. This was the beginning of the end for me. The next time I would step foot on home soil, I would be walking into the unknown.
I was at Fort Carson for one month and nine days. That first month at Carson I trained for Iraq, but still did not feel prepared enough to get into a firefight with a terrorist or be the lookout for a Battle Buddy as hot rounds flew past my face. I was scared. When I arrived in Iraq, I remember feeling petrified. I cried a few times in my room all-alone questioning why I joined the Army and how I Just should have stayed in college and played soccer, but instead, I was across the country playing Russian roulette with my life or so it seemed at the time. I wanted to go back home so badly. It was too much stress for me. Our base would get hit with mortars, sometimes the alarm system would work, and other times it did not (these alarm systems were set up to warn you if any missiles were flying towards our base). As time went on, I got the hang of things, I had a routine, I made friends, and I was feeling a bit better about being deployed.
Towards the end of December 2008, I had spent my first Christmas alone and I was feeling extremely exhausted and not myself. I would later find out that I was experiencing severe symptoms of a rare form of cancer - Ewing Sarcoma – not my depression I thought I was experiencing. In many cases of Ewing Sarcoma, you will have a tumour and extreme fatigue such as I did in my case and in other cases, have low fevers, a lump near skin that feels warm and soft to the touch, a constant low fever, limping because your legs hurt, and bone pain that gets worse when you exercise or during the night.
By mid-January 2009, I had a large tumour in my left inner groin area, which seemed to have grown overnight. When I first noticed this lump in my leg, I was very naive about it and didn't realize the severity of things. The thought of it being a tumour, let alone cancer in my leg did not cross my mind. I chalked it up to be a pulled muscle in my leg. I can recall showing my roommate at that time in Iraq, and she is extremely concerned about my leg. She was the main reason why I went to the medic station there. I am thankful that she talked me into going; this was literally the difference between life and death. When I got to my units medic, she immediately knew something was wrong and created orders for me to Baghdad, where I got an MRI. I would then be instructed to get on the next flight to Germany.
Germany was beautiful and I was very happy that I was out of a war zone. I was safe again. I did not have to worry about the next attack on my base or mortars being launched in the sky … but little did I know I was coming back to the States to fight a different type of war- one that would involve my mental strength, physical strength and my faith. I would soon be putting my M16 down and picking up the harsh treatments of chemotherapy. I had to face the enemy inside me. It was in Germany where I found out that I had cancer and not just any cancer, but cancer that is so rare and aggressive, that only about 200 people are diagnosed with it each year. After finding out I was sick, everything seemed so surreal. I had a hard time believing I was sick. Sure, I felt exhausted and I had a lump in my leg, but I appeared to be fine on the outside. And that is the thing about cancer, it is an aimless bullet with anyone’s name on it, you never know when or how or why and a lot of times you don’t look sick until you start the treatments.
When my biopsy came back the first time, I was told that I would be sent to Walter Reed Medical Center in DC and that is where I would be treated for the duration of my time. I agreed, of course, but was in a state of shock. Finally getting back to the America was great. It was not what I had dreamed about when returning, I had imagined coming home to my family and friends welcoming me back home with the homemade signs, instead, I was greeted by hospital staff members and cancer patients that had heard about my arrival. When I finally stepped foot into that hospital, I knew I was in for a hell of a ride. I did not know how or when or what I was going to do, but I knew that my fight in Iraq was over, but the fight for my life had just begun. My will to live was so strong. Of course, I feared death; I was only 24-years-old and had barely experience what life had to offer. But I put it in my heart that this was not the end for me, but merely an experience that I was going to live through. In the end, I had completed 17 cycles of chemotherapy, which was a rigorous treatment plan of five days of treatment and eight days off. I successfully completed over 100 rounds of chemotherapy, lost my hair and the old me. I had my inner muscle removed and now only a beautiful two-foot scar remains. While on the hospital ward, I made great friends with the staff and other cancer patients that did not make it here today, I learned a lot about myself and how strong my will to live is and was. I do often wonder why I made it and the others did not.
The best thing that was birthed out of this entire process was turning this small tragedy into a nonfiction book. I kept a journal that would nine years late server as my published memoir. I would title it The Enemy Inside Me. Through personal journal entries that include timestamps and locations; I revisit the critical moments from that period in my life, from discovering my tumor to being officially diagnosed and preparing my mind and body for treatment. These moments are peppered with emotional flashbacks that expose my fear of death and my thoughts on karma, and my investigation into the cause of my cancer. This book gives an honest representation of my thoughts and moods during this time, exploring the highs as well as the lows while holding nothing back, there are quite a few things that I did not put into the book, and would love to have possibly a Prequel giving the reader a bit more information about Brandi before cancer and my life before me facing death.
Even though I have hit my nine-year mark of being a cancer survivor, my fight has not ended. I am forever reminded of what happened and my life is now about finding a reason to exist and walk in my purpose. My purpose is to inspire, encourage and motivate others through action and to cheer them on while fighting cancer with all they have.