KIRTLAND AIR FORCE BASE, N.M. --
As hundreds of Airmen, cancer survivors and their caregivers poured into Hangar 1000, at Kirtland Air Force Base, New Mexico Nov. 2, 2019, they saw the aircraft, informational booths and rows of tables ready to celebrate the third annual Warriors for Warriors gathering.
The idea for Warriors for Warriors began after a conversation between Matt Finkelstein, Southwest Women’s Oncology chief executive officer and founder of United to Cure Cancer, and retired U.S. Air Force Chief Master Sgt. Kevin Norman, former 58th Maintenance Squadron superintendent. During their conversation, they each began to recognize the commonality of our men and women serving in the military with that of cancer patients bravely facing their own mortality.
Thus was born Warriors for Warriors, an annual event aimed at bringing together Southwest Women’s Oncology’s patients, survivors, and their families with members of the U.S. Air Force.
“We bring our patients, staff and military all together so we can celebrate everyone who is going through tough times,” said Sheryl McGarthland, a registered nurse with the organization. “[Those] warriors who are going through war, and [so are] those nurses and staff who are taking care of patients who are having to fight horrible diseases.”
Attendees had the opportunity to walk around the hangar, visiting with the Airmen and aircraft of the 58 Special Operations Wing.
Beth BonSeggern, an ovarian cancer survivor, has attended the event every year and this year decided to bring her sister.
“[The event] is emotional support for everyone,” said BonSeggern. “It’s excellent to get to interact with the base and see everything. I get to not only show off my caregivers, I get to honor them too.”
She said that they always have good food, good speakers and moments that will sometimes bring you to tears.
During the event, Dr. Karen Finkelstein, head of Southwest Women’s Oncology medical team and double-board certified physician in OB/GYN and Gynecologic Oncology, talked about how great it was to bring together these two groups of warriors. Additionally, keynote speaker Jerry Linenger, a retired U.S. Navy Captain and astronaut, spoke about his experiences in space, as well as his admiration for the crowd.
When speakers finished, Norman also spoke about his own family’s experience with cancer and military life. After his speech, the leadership of the 58 SOW awarded each Airmen in attendance with a coin, who, in turn, handed out their coins to the survivors and their family members. According to Norman, the coin signifies being part of a family, be that military, survivors, fighters or caregivers.
“[The event] allowed us to come together to communicate, share stories and know that no one out there is alone,” said McGarthland.