Cancer survivorship brings hope

KNOB NOSTER, Mo. -- June Tripp, small cell cancer survivor, and Christi Baldwin, 509th Communication Squadron base operator, display the blanket June won in a raffle at the Hope Lodge when she stayed during her stay. Baldwin has planned a poker tournament in Knob Noster to help benefit the Hope Lodge in Kansas City, Mo. (U.S. Air Force photo/Heidi Hunt)

KNOB NOSTER, Mo. -- June Tripp, small cell cancer survivor, and Christi Baldwin, 509th Communication Squadron base operator, display the blanket June won in a raffle at the Hope Lodge when she stayed during her stay. Baldwin has planned a poker tournament in Knob Noster to help benefit the Hope Lodge in Kansas City, Mo. (U.S. Air Force photo/Heidi Hunt)

KNOB NOSTER, Mo. -- June Tripp, small cell cancer survivor, recounts stories of her experiences during cancer treatment, Feb. 19. June believes in the power of positive thinking and is grateful for the support of family, friends and community.  (U.S. Air Force photo/Heidi Hunt)

KNOB NOSTER, Mo. -- June Tripp, small cell cancer survivor, recounts stories of her experiences during cancer treatment, Feb. 19. June believes in the power of positive thinking and is grateful for the support of family, friends and community. (U.S. Air Force photo/Heidi Hunt)

KNOB NOSTER, Mo. -- June Tripp, small cell cancer survivor, demonstrates the radiation mask she used during her radiation therapy, Feb. 19. June endured 15 days of radiation treatments to help shrink tumors and kill cancer cells. (U.S. Air Force photo/Heidi Hunt)

KNOB NOSTER, Mo. -- June Tripp, small cell cancer survivor, demonstrates the radiation mask she used during her radiation therapy, Feb. 19. June endured 15 days of radiation treatments to help shrink tumors and kill cancer cells. (U.S. Air Force photo/Heidi Hunt)

WHITEMAN AIR FORCE BASE, Mo. -- The word "survivor" is often attached to many different groups of people. Service members returning from deployment to a hostile area are just one of these groups.

However, not all survivors wear a military uniform; instead, they are family members of those who serve or have served.

Whiteman's own June Tripp is one such individual.

June is married to Richard Tripp, a retired Navy senior chief petty officer currently serving as the 394th Combat Training Squadron's B-2 flight simulator site manager. She has survived not only her husband's past deployments, but also a direct threat to her own well-being - small cell lung cancer - and in doing, gained a greater understanding for the term "survivor."

June is no stranger to cancer, having survived breast cancer more than 25 years ago, but what started out as a toothache in July 2012 would again fundamentally alter her life and challenge her in incredibly difficult ways.

After being prescribed antibiotics for an unrelated dental ailment, she began to experience significant upper chest pain, and the next day, June went to her family doctor for the pain.

Her doctor listened to her chest, took X-rays and ultimately found a tumor in her chest and lungs.

"The next week, I was sent to an oncologist, where they did a biopsy," June said. "They drained a liter of fluid out of my lungs and found that it was small cell lung cancer."

She was devastated, and remembers weeping in the arms of the nurse attending her. Fortunately, June knew she could count on the love and support of her family and close friends.

After she wiped away her tears, the first thing she said was, "I've got to do what I've got to do, and I am going to fight this cancer."

By that time, the cancer had already progressed to stage IV. She had several cancer spots throughout her body, and the oncologist informed her the cancer was inoperable.

"The only thing they could do was chemotherapy, because there was more than one spot," June said. "Within two weeks, I was on chemotherapy and did that for the next six months."

When she completed chemotherapy, the doctor performed another positron emission tomography (PET) scan, and found two more spots. They also conducted brain radiation treatment, as this type of cancer was capable of traveling to the brain.

As it does for many others fighting cancer, the various treatments took a physical toll on Tripp.

"Radiation made me fatigued, so it was hard drive back and forth every day," she said.

Fortunately, June found out about the local Hope Lodge in Kansas City, Mo. The Hope Lodge provides cancer patients with a free room so patients do not have to travel every day.

Prior to finding out about the Hope Lodge, a close family friend, Anita Baldwin, transported June to Kansas City from Knob Noster for chemotherapy so Mr. Tripp could continue to work.

"Laughter and a good support system is what got me through it," she said. "There's nothing else you can do - you can give up or you can fight it ... I chose to fight it."

She will have to undergo another PET scan and possibly further radiation on her brain and hip to detect and treat any cancer should it return.

Even though June found out about the Hope Lodge in January, months after she made several trips to her therapy sessions, she is still grateful and wants to give back to others in need.
"I've had so many prayers and people behind me, and if we can raise someone's spirits and help someone else in need, then I feel like I've paid it forward," she said.

Baldwin's daughter, Christi, who is also a member of the 509th Bomb Wing Communications Squadron, decided to hold a "Hold 'Em 4 Hope" poker tournament at the Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 4195 in Knob Noster, scheduled for March 16. All proceeds will go to the Hope Lodge.

"Since I started planning the event, I have become impressed with the military and local community," she said. "I have had an outpouring of support and gratitude."

For more information, contact Christi Baldwin at 660-563-0061 or search HOLD EM 4 HOPE!! via Facebook. The poker tournament is open to the public. For information about the Hope Lodge log on to http://www.cancer.org/treatment/supportprogramsservices/hopelodge/kansascity/index