CAMP VIRGINIA, Kuwait -Twice each week, I talk to my parents over Skype. They thought it was incredible that they could still see me even though I was thousands of miles away, for last deployment we relied on phone calls and e-mails to keep in touch. Even though we didn’t necessarily talk long, or some days we only made small talk about the weather, it was something we all looked forward to, to see each other. It is always hard to hear tough news when you can’t be there to help or comfort a loved one, but when you can see them makes things a bit easier.
Because of my dad’s 20-year history with cancer (diagnosed with leukemia in 1993, sarcoma in 2005, melanoma in 2006 and colon cancer in 2011) his physicians wanted to do a full work-up to ensure he was doing alright.
In December of 2011, the family was awaiting results from a liver biopsy after an MRI revealed some ‘spots.’ He was able to tell me over Skype that his doctor gave him two years to live, even with treatment. Due to the look on his face and how he said it so nonchalantly, I thought he was joking at first, because he is a guy that likes to joke. I have never gone from laughing to crying so quickly after the expression on his face didn’t change.
My dad has never expressed to me or my siblings directly or indirectly any negativity of what life has thrown at him. He doesn’t want sympathy and most every day has a smile on his face. When asking him how he felt about his latest diagnosis he shrugged and said “it is what it is,” and proceeded to start his new treatment and continues to live life to the fullest.
I felt helpless after he told me. I was here, he was there. How am I going to help? It was hard for me not to be there to give him a hug, or to help out with things around my parent’s house like snow shoveling or ride along to treatment or doctor’s appointments. So I decided to do something here at Camp Virginia, Kuwait, to show my support.
Up until his diagnosis, I did not know that World Cancer Day even existed. Google, the magic machine that it is, lead me to the Union for International Cancer Control’s website as I was searching for a day that persons dealing with cancer are honored and remembered. I found that the first World Cancer Day was started in 2006 by UICC and was held every fourth of February. Since 5K races are much to the enjoyment of soldiers here in Kuwait, I decided that I was going to hold a World Cancer Awareness Day 5K. If for nothing, I wanted to do it to raise awareness.
From the beginning, I received a great deal of support for the event. I was energized by the giving nature of people in wanting to take part. Soldiers from the 134th Brigade Support Battalion were giving personal donations to ensure that troops that wanted to participate in the run could get a T-shirt. So much donated money was received that not only did all the runners receive shirts, but there were enough for soldiers to send some home to show support for their family and friends. There were also an abundant number of soldiers from the unit that volunteered to help work the event as road guards and people to help pass out t-shirts. 134th BSB soldiers from the Camp Life Support Area came to CVA to support the event as well. The workers at the gym volunteered their time to help with the logistics of getting the shirts, and the local Emergency Management Support volunteered their medical support for the day of the event. It was selfless service at its finest.
There were 270 run participants on one of the coldest morning of the 134th BSB tour. Many said they wanted to be there to show their support for either someone they knew personally or for a friend they were deployed with.
While putting this event together, I realized how many people are affected by cancer in some way. In our small community of troops at Camp Virginia, there was not one person that I spoke with that didn’t have a family member or friend that was impacted by cancer.
I was amazed to learn how many family members were recently diagnosed with cancer or had just passed away. Many people used the event to support their loved ones at home in the states, and it seemed that many soldiers had a burden lifted by just having their personal story heard. We forget sometimes when we put on the uniform that there is a whole other life for us.
I am so grateful for the community that is the 134th BSB. The people in this organization are like a second family. There are people here to lean on and can pick you up when down that you don’t have to be afraid to talk to. It makes being away from home and dealing with things that may be troublesome a lot less trying. In supporting my dad, I found support which I have come to realize is vital not only for those fighting but family and friends of fighters, survivors and those we have lost.
Sgt. 1st Class Tara Dooley grew up in Forrest Lake, Minn. She resides in St. Paul, Minn., with her husband. Her parents still live in Forrest Lake.