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NEWS | Oct. 18, 2018

Breast cancer survivor gives power to victim stereotype

By Airman First Class Ariel Owings Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst Public Affairs

She traced her thumb over the black buttons as she anxiously pulled her chartreuse button-up over her chest.

She was preparing to share her story of the missing parts of her.

Dr. Michaelene Kloster, 99th Readiness Division chief of staff and retired U.S. Army brigadier general, shared her story of being diagnosed with breast cancer while serving in the military during an event that the Naval Air Systems Command Women’s Advisory Group hosted here, Oct. 11.

Kloster was 46 at the time of her diagnosis when she said she had gone to a routine checkup. The doctor noticed a lump and suggested to get some further testing but not to worry. Two weeks passed, she heard nothing. She assumed that’s exactly what it was…nothing. At a separate unrelated checkup, Kloster was unexpectedly informed of her diagnosis.

She had breast cancer.

One in eight women are diagnosed with breast cancer each year. Diagnosis often requires lab tests or imaging in a doctor’s office. Not all people get the recommended yearly checkups or are unable to afford them. This can lead to viruses, bacteria or, in this case, cancer.

“You think you’re doing great,” said Kloster. “You’re out there exercising. I’m jumping out of airplanes, I’m this big bad Army girl commanding an 0-6 level command at the time. I was going through [U.S. Army War College] at the time and I thought ‘I am totally indestructible.’”

Her diagnosis was an unwelcome wake-up call that no one is indestructible.

WAG aims to help men and women be more aware of the signs and symptoms of breast cancer and to not fear seeking help and treatment. Medical complications have additional effects on the military community than they do on the civilian community.

Although Kolster had undergone treatment for her breast cancer while actively serving in the Army, it did not end her career. Kloster shared with the group her experiences of challenges, even with everyday tasks and the effects her treatments had on her while working.

“We want to be able to help everyone understand the importance of [breast cancer] and not just ignore it like most people do,” said Rachel Jones, WAG team member. “Even if you do get checked and it’s nothing, then at least you’re checked and you know it’s nothing for a fact.”

WAG hopes that this yearly seminar gives people a place to reach out to others who understand the situations they may be going through. Whether it’s an individual or the friends and family members, WAG wants to give a support system to people in any way they need.

The members of WAG are pushing toward a new perspective of support and information they provide during Breast Cancer Awareness Month. They encourage men and women not to respond to a diagnosis as a weakness but as a temporary setback that they can overcome.

“Our main focus is to get the word out there on being proactive about your yearly checkups and keeping yourself healthy,” said Oxana Losowyj, WAG co-leader and NAVAIR logistics element manager. “We want people to know that there are organizations out there that can help you get through the rough times even as an active military member.”