SHEPPARD AIR FORCE BASE, Texas — About one in eight women and one in 1,000 men will develop breast cancer in their lifetime, according to the U.S. breast cancer statistics at www.breastcancer.org.
“I tell people when it comes to cancer, there’s no definitive gender,” said Master Sgt. Nicole McKinstry, 82nd Dental Squadron clinical flight chief and breast cancer survivor. “Don’t assume breast cancer is only for females, men get it too. We all need to be proactive in the fight against cancer because it’s an ‘everybody’ issue.”
While the risk factor for men is significantly lower than women, it’s still a concern for everyone.
According to www.cancer.org, both boys and girls begin developing the same breast tissue, at an early age. The difference is during puberty when women begin producing more hormones that cause the breasts to grow, increasing the amount of tissue, inevitably making them a better candidate for breast-feeding. This makes it less common to find breast cancer in men, but still possible.
“The key to fighting breast cancer isn’t always in living a healthy lifestyle. Some of it has to do with genetics,” said Maj. Anastasia McKoy, 82nd Medical Operations Squadron women’s health clinic flight commander. “So ultimately, the best thing to do is to be proactive in checking yourself for any unusual lumps, discharge, or chronic pain. Early detection is the best way to fight cancer should it form.”
While the Air Force has expert medical teams to aid in the discovery, treatment and recovery of cancer, they’re not the only entity that can provide support to Airmen and families who suffer from this disease. One such resource is the Airman and Family Readiness Center, which helped send McKinstry’s mother on a grant to Holloman Air Force Base, New Mexico, where she was stationed at the time she was battling breast cancer. Her commander also authorized her to be with family for several months to receive resident care and be near her primary support.
“There are survivors and early detection will save your life,” McKinstry said. “You have to be a strong advocate for yourself and err on the side of caution. If you suspect something might be wrong, get it checked out. The Air Force has so many programs to help patients who’ve been diagnosed with cancer and they helped me tremendously.”
Despite the challenging circumstances, McKinstry was able to overcome and beat her cancer and rejoin the Air Force. She now advocates for breast cancer awareness and supports Airmen and families everywhere who are currently battling the disease.
“When I completed chemotherapy, they sent us a bill over the nine months of treatment and it was $895,000,” she said. “The Air Force paid for every dime. It was humbling for me and I was so grateful to receive the care I did through the military. I remember looking at my bill and thinking, ‘who has this kind of money?’ I would never have been able to afford it without the services and support from the Air Force.”
If you would like to explore a free resource about breast cancer, visit www.brightpink.org/ or text Pink to 59227 to receive text message health reminders to do your checks each month.