Warriors for Warriors rallies troops, community against Ovarian Cancer
By Jim Fisher, Kirtland Public Affairs
/ Published May 01, 2017
Weapons and weapon systems were on display at the Warriors for Warriors event to rally troops and the community against Ovarian Cancer Saturday at Hangar 1000. Airmen showed guests from the local community the types of weapons Special Operations aircrews might face in hostile territory, including a mock RPG-7.
As guests wielded and posed for pictures with the RPG, a different threat, just as lethal, dominated the agenda: Ovarian Cancer. Like aircrews loitering over a hot landing zone, patients, providers, families and supporters gathered to summon their courage and stay in the fight.
Chief Master Sgt. Kevin Norman, 58th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron, explained the 58th hosted this first-of-its-kind event to emphasize courage, something equally valuable to women fighting cancer and Airmen fighting for their country.
“Warriors for Warriors is our way of helping our local community raise awareness on the topic of ovarian cancer, and to show our support for people fighting this disease, and their families,” the chief said. “We wanted to do our part to honor their courage, to support their strength and bolster their resiliency.”
Norman also drew upon his personal experience—his wife is currently undergoing treatment for the disease—to let the more than 300 guests know they were not alone in the struggle.
“Some of the people fighting this disease are from our military community as well, so this is an issue that is close to home for us. We recognized that in showcasing the courage of patients and their families, we would be showcasing the courage and resiliency that are also integral to military service,” the Chief said.
Barbara Albin, recently diagnosed with Ovarian Cancer, attended after her physician recommended taking part in Warriors for Warriors.
“My doctor strongly encouraged me to come because she wants me to hear from, and see and be inspired by women who have survived this,” Albin said, explaining she had the experience of losing her mother to the same disease years ago. “[My doctor] is trying to encourage me to believe that the medications are better now, that my chances are better now and to have more hope. I’m hoping she’s right, because it’s a hard road.”
Keynote speaker Col. Shahnaz Punjani provided that hope. The director of the Operationally Response Space Office here, Punjani is also a survivor who was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2011 and is now cancer free for six years. Courage and determination are essential, she said.
“I have seen people that should never have lived but they did because they had the courage to fight. So after the initial shock, I decided I was going to fight. I was going pick myself up every day and I was going to get through it. I had a 10-year-old and 8-year-old and I wanted to see them in high school and college.” Punjani said.
The colonel drew inspiration from other survivors and people going through treatment, including the combat casualties she shared the halls with a Walter Reed Medical Center, Md.
“They were trying to recover from no-kidding, major, serious injuries. Watching them trying to adapt to new limbs and prosthetics—I’ll tell you those people are amazing,” Punjani said.
After completing treatment and in the midst of recovery while waiting for reconstructive surgery, she was summoned by then 14th Air Force Commander Lt. Gen. Susan Helms to command the 30th Launch Group, 30th Space Wing, at Vandenberg AFB, Calif.
“I was waiting for reconstructive surgery, still bald, I was pretty tired and had planned to rest for a year. I was the only one I knew who was going through this and not retired,” Punjani said. She explained that Helms then put her in touch with a female general officer who had become a commander two months after completing cancer treatment.
“I said, I guess I can suck it up,” Punjani said. “And by the way it was a dream job. I will tell you that that was the most amazing job of my career. So I just wanted to tell you, no matter what you think or where you are, you still have [people] who look forward to your contribution.”
The event concluded with a coining ceremony. As a symbol of sharing experience and courage, 58th Commander Col. Brenda Cartier coined Airmen in attendance, who in turned bestowed guests with a commemorative Warriors for Warriors coin.
Ultimately, the event provided needed encouragement, according to Albin.
“It was inspiring to hear people talk about their experience and think more about courage and living each day, and fighting the urge to give up,” Albin said. “I’m coming out of here with some new drive.”
Given its success, organizers hope to put on a similar event next year, according to Norman.