Local women help advocate for self exams, mammograms
Brenda Woods was like many of the one in eight women who will be diagnosed with cancer in their lifetimes.
The Inver Grove Heights resident and sergeant first class stationed with the Minnesota National Guard in Rosemount was in the best shape of her life in 2008 at the start of her cancer story, which she is telling as one of the first in a series of videos being produced for the Pink Tank Project.
The new effort has Army National Guard members who have been touched by cancer urging women to commit to monthly self exams and mammograms as directed by their doctor. It is being spearheaded by Maj. Kristen Auge, of Eagan, Rosemount VFW commander and Minnesota National Guard deputy director of public affairs.
Woods, Auge and other National Guard female members gathered recently to record a program for Minnesota Military Radio last Thursday at the VFW.
The radio program was another piece of the Pink Tank Project’s goal to inform military and non-military women about the importance of the early detection of cancer.
The main Pink Tank message center is at www.minnesotanationalguard.org/pinktank where Woods relates her story, which began when she discovered a pea-sized lump in her left breast.
“I was working with a personal trainer,” she said. “I was feeling great, then, bam, there it was.”
A biopsy confirmed it was a malignant cancer.
After Woods decided to have a mastectomy she had the added stress of determining what to do about another mass in her right breast that doctors could not confirm was cancerous or not.
Before the surgery, Woods asked her doctor what she would do if she were in her position.
The doctor told her that she would have a double mastectomy so she wouldn’t have to worry about it anymore.
Woods agreed and after the bilateral mastectomy, she discovered her decision resulted in two different kinds of cancer being removed.
She declined to have reconstructive surgery and went on the drug tamoxifen – hormone therapy to aid in her recovery that resulted in her having hot flashes, mood swings and fits of crying.
Woods says her cancer journey, which didn’t include chemotherapy or radiation, has been easy compared to what other women go through.
She knows how difficult that journey can be as her mother was recently diagnosed with cancer and is undergoing radiation treatment.
Woods’ story of early detection and cancer survival is one that resonates well with the Pink Tank Project.
It’s also inspirational because of the positive attitude she had throughout her cancer journey.
After the initial diagnosis, Woods said she was pretty calm, went back to work and went home only when her boss ordered her to do so.
“I made up my mind that this was not going to do me in,” she said.
She said she knew she had to be strong when she told her daughter and mother about the diagnosis.
“A positive attitude goes a long way,” she said. “I’m a very spiritual person who has always had faith.”
Woods, who was honored during Breast Cancer Awareness Month at the Oct. 13 Vikings home game as a Soldier of the Game, said it has been inspiring meeting other women who have been touched by cancer through the Pink Tank Project.
Auge agreed, noting a gathering of the women who met to have their photo taken with a “pink tank” thanks to some Photoshop magic.
“That morning when we did the video, I felt like I had a bond to these women for the rest of my life,” Auge said.
Like that tank, the women said we are strong but not invincible.
“We all know about it, but we still don’t commit to doing it,” Auge said of routine exams.
She was one of those who didn’t do all she could to take care of herself.
Auge found a lump in her breast one day but didn’t see her doctor until eight months later.
She says she was fortunate that it was not cancer, but the message was clear to her that the message about early detection needed a military backing.
“It goes back to that warrior ethos of not leaving a fallen comrade behind,” Auge said.
The Minnesota Military Hour on AM 1130 News Talk Radio highlighting the Pink Tank Project is available as a podcast at http://minnesotamilitaryradiohour.com.
During the program Rosemount Mayor Bill Droste also spoke about the city’s Central Park Memorial Veterans Walk, and Karl Xavier III, president of the Rosemount Beyond the Yellow Ribbon, talked about the organization’s work that assists veterans in a variety of ways.