Team Whiteman member combats breast cancer

  • Published
  • By Heidi Hunt
  • 509th Bomb Wing Public Affairs
In 2006, breast cancer claimed the lives of 40,820 women, which is equivalent to 110 deaths per day, according to the Center for Disease Control. October is breast cancer awareness month and in recognition, Air Force Global Strike Command recognizes those who have been affected by this disease.

Those fighting at the forefront of this disease-driven war may be considered honorary warriors. Martha Willming, wife of retired of Master Sgt. Jeff Willming is one such individual whose challenges will not soon be forgotten.

After a routine well-woman exam in June 2009, Martha's doctor discovered something out of the ordinary in her right breast.

At that time in her life, breast cancer was the furthest thing from Martha's mind.

"My husband had just retired and my youngest daughter was about to go off to college," said Martha. "I wasn't even thinking about breast cancer when my doctor told me it might just be a cyst and nothing more, but nonetheless recommended a mammogram."

At 39-years-old, this would be Martha's first mammogram. She had originally planned to schedule one soon after her 40th birthday.

From that point in her life, she knew things could change, but was unsure how.

After receiving the results of her mammogram, Martha scheduled an appointment for a biopsy, where doctors surgically removed a small sample of breast tissue.

Two days later, the results came back positive. Martha was diagnosed with breast cancer.

By that time her tumor reached 2.2 centimeters, indicating stage II of breast cancer. Stage IV is the final stage of breast cancer.

A growing list of medical engagements had Martha routinely visiting doctors' offices.

"I had to find out where the cancer was so my doctor recommended a lumpectomy," she said. "They took three lymphoids from my body to check if it spread outside of my breasts, but thankfully all three came back negative.

"A positive was that I caught it early and it didn't develop into an aggressive stage of breast cancer," Martha said.

After discussing options with her oncologist, additional physical and mental challenges arose with each scheduled visit. This time, the impact would connotate differently to Martha.

Martha endured six-rounds of chemotherapy and 30-rounds of radiation, part of a process that would rob her of what many women consider a big part of their womanhood.
"I tried to psyche myself out and get in that mindset, but almost overnight my hair fell out," she said. "I was devastated."

But as the initial shock faded, Martha hosted a head-shaving party with her family and friends and took turns transforming her hair style.

"My hair was going to fall out I was going to have fun with it and they styled my hair into a Mohawk," she said.

Because Martha opted for chemotherapy, chances of the cancer coming back in ten years reduced to 20 percent from 40.

After 22 months of undergoing radical changes, Martha was announced cancer free in September.

Her loved ones were overjoyed.

"In spite of her challenges, Martha continues to be trooper throughout this experience and I admire her for the way she handled it," said Dawn McCoy, family friend.

Martha said she is fortunate and has received nothing but support from her family, friends, co-workers and the community.

"There were days when people brought food and even left anonymous gifts at my house," she said. "I also received many hats, which I appreciated and wore a lot."

Her last chemotherapy treatment was Jan. 15, which was when her hair started to grow back.

"Dealing with this disease is just a little part of my life, not my whole life and something I had to and am still going through," Martha said.

Since her diagnosis, many of Martha's friends and co-workers have taken steps to get breast exams.

"Early detection and self breast exams are key and I cannot stress that enough," Martha said. "Even if you feel something, you should get it checked out immediately. It could save your life."