EDWARDS AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. --
Graduating is just the icing on the cake of any school experience. The journey is sometimes marred by challenges and failures, which are almost just residues of memories once that diploma is received. Sometimes, people go back to remember, learn, and even laugh at those memories.
On June 6, Natasha Green, 95th Force Support Squadron Human Resource specialist, graduated with a Master of Arts in Management and Leadership at Webster University-Edwards campus. However, she may always remember her first year at graduate school.
Her road to graduation was bumpy -- make that lumpy.
It was April 2007, three months after she began taking a course for her master's degree. A routine, annual checkup seemed nothing out of the ordinary for her, but the word "cancer" changed everything.
"You hear of people who have it, but you never think that you will be the one to get it," Mrs. Green said.
She was in the early stage of breast cancer.
As a biopsy of Mrs. Green's breast tissue and a second doctor's opinion confirmed she had breast cancer, it finally dawned on her.
"It was a shock," Mrs. Green said. "It totally blew me out of the water. It was nothing you'd expect. I have no history of it in my family, and I never really thought much about it."
But the shock seemed to have also reverberated throughout the Green household. Concerns about her well-being were the family's top priority. Mrs. Green and her husband talked to their two adult sons about her condition and what she would be going through.
"It automatically became a family thing," said Kenneth Green, 95th Communications Group planning and implementation computer scientist. "We all have to go through it. We didn't want to keep our children in the dark."
From there, the whole family researched the Internet and medical books about breast cancer, surgical procedures and treatment. They witnessed what she went through. And they were always there.
Breast cancer is a type of disease in which abnormal cells in the breast divide without control and it can occur in both men and women. It commonly forms in tissues of the breast, usually the ducts and lobules.
"I couldn't really feel the lump when I was doing my (breast self-exam)," Mrs. Green said. "Fortunately, the mammogram caught it."
However, knowing was just half the battle as she had to undergo a series of examinations and treatments to eradicate the lump. Within two weeks of the diagnosis, the doctors scheduled her for surgery. In May 2007, she had a lumpectomy, a surgery that removes only the tumor and some surrounding tissue.
Four rounds of chemotherapy soon followed where she received medication to kill the cancer cells. During the second round of chemotherapy, Mrs. Green lost her hair, one of the treatment's side effects. But in anticipation of the hair loss, she cut her hair shorter and began wearing a wig.
As part of Mrs. Green's chemotherapy, doctors installed a portacath beneath the skin to deliver medicine quickly and efficiently. She went to a cancer treatment facility every three weeks to receive her medicine.
"It doesn't really hit you until you go to cancer wards and see other people, even with children, who went through the ordeal," Mr. Green said. "Just to see that, it makes you look at your problem and say, 'I guess my problems aren't that bad.'"
Mrs. Green could have used cancer as an excuse. She could have waited until she was cancer free, or let her illness stress and slow her down. Instead, she continued both work and school.
"Cancer did affect my studies," Mrs. Green said. "Some people say you get 'chemo brain,' where it affects your brain and memory. I did forget things once in a while. It makes you tired. There were nights when I couldn't study because of fatigue and lack of concentration."
Mr. Green said his wife was determined to receive her degree and beat the "big C." In some instances, she would receive treatment, but still went out her way to go to classes. She always signed up for the next term.
"And she never stopped," he said. "She said cancer was not going to beat her."
After receiving the last drop of chemo in October 2007, she immediately underwent radiation therapy -- the use of high-energy radiation to kill cancer cells and shrink tumors. It concentrates the radiation on the site where a tumor was removed. She went to the treatment facility approximately 30 times for radiation therapy. As part of the side effects, Mrs. Green experienced fatigue and burns on her skin. This prompted her to take a 10-day break just to recuperate from the burns.
"You change the way you look at things," Mr. Green said. "A long time ago, when you heard the word cancer, it was a death sentence. But now, with the way technology is and the different medications, it really worked out for her.
Throughout the ordeal, the Greens were there for one another. Prior to Mrs. Green's diagnosis, Mr. Green had just begun taking the same classes and course as his wife. In fact, they were actually classmates. At times when Mrs. Green felt under the weather, he was there for her, jotting down notes and helping with schoolwork.
"We supported each other," Mr. Green said. "It worked out that I was in the same class and I was able to help her."
But his support extended more. Mr. Green was scheduled to march for his graduation last year. But he waited. He chose to graduate with his wife. He wanted to put the academic regalia on her once she graduated.
"To see her go through that -- it was an inspiration to me and my kids," he said. "I am proud of her. She's amazing. It was a blessing for us. It's amazing."
On June 6, Mrs. Green received her diploma, however, nowhere does it say "cancer survivor." Even her transcript of record won't show an "A+" for bravery or resilience. But she said she is thankful for being a cancer survivor.
"I'm proud of my achievements. I never would have thought I'd receive my degree. I'm glad I'm graduating!" Mrs. Green said, raising her hands with a smile.
(For more information on breast cancer, visit the National Cancer Institute Web site at www.cancer.org.)