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Targeting a killer, 111th ATKW reminds community to be vigilant

Black and white photo of a woman wearing an Air Force uniform and pink boxing gloves.

Lt. Col. Angela McDonough, a dental officer currently serving as the 111th Medical Group administrative officer, poses for a photo illustration at Horsham Air Guard Station, Pennsylvania, on Nov. 21, 2019 while wearing pink boxing gloves to commemorate triumph over breast cancer. McDonough was one of three officers who sat for recorded interviews here in October documenting their experiences with breast cancer. (U.S. Air National Guard illustration by Senior Airman Wilfredo Acosta)

HORSHAM AIR GUARD STATION, Pa. --

We have intelligence regarding a sleeper cell intent on killing from within. The threat does not distinguish between military and civilian targets. It strikes regardless of race, religion, social status, or even gender. And, it wants nothing more than to silently destroy as many as possible. 

The enemy is breast cancer, and according to the American Cancer Society, it is killing about 112 Americans a day.

Having experienced enemy contact firsthand, the 111th Attack Wing knows breast cancer is more than pink ribbons and awareness in the month of October. That’s why three officers decided to give testimonials about their fight.

During the month of October, 111th Attack Wing Commander Col. Bill Griffin, 111th ATKW Executive Officer Capt. Taylor Hoskins and Lt. Col. Angela McDonough, a dental officer currently serving as the 111th Medical Group administrative officer, sat for recorded interviews here documenting their experiences with breast cancer. 

Each gave a unique perspective. Both Hoskins and McDonough shared personal survivor stories, whereas Griffin described what it was like to support his wife, Janet, through diagnosis, surgery and chemotherapy. 

All three stories share an important theme, survival through early detection. In short, they located, closed with and destroyed the enemy before it could destroy them.

For McDonough, who was vigilant about annual checkups, early detection was finding a lump in her breast during a self-examination about a year ago.

“I just had my annual mammogram three weeks prior to finding a lump in my left breast,” said McDonough. “The mammogram came back clear. They found nothing. And, within that timeframe I found the lump.”

McDonough, who is now a proponent of self-examination in addition to annual mammograms, considers early discovery a contributing factor to surviving cancer without chemotherapy. Though she had a clean bill of health and no family history, McDonough refused to become complacent. She found her lump herself and got immediate follow-up treatment. As a result, she recently celebrated the one-year anniversary of her diagnosis cancer-free. 

Unlike McDonough, Hoskins is on the other side of the genetic fence. Because her mother is a breast cancer survivor, Hoskins was familiar with the statistics listed on breastcancer.org stating a woman’s risk almost doubles once a first-degree relative is diagnosed with breast cancer. 

“My mother was diagnosed with breast cancer when I was age ten,” Hoskins explained. “She survived … and elected to have genetic testing, which identified her as having the [breast-cancer -gene mutation] BRCA 1.”

When Hoskins sought out genetic testing, she discovered she is also a carrier of the gene. So, she preemptively had routine checkups semi-annually until she got a call from her radiologist in April of 2018.

“This is probably that moment when they tell me I have cancer.” Hoskins thought. 

Having undergone surgery and follow-up treatment, Hoskins is currently a breast cancer survivor with more than a year cancer free. In that time, Hoskins has married her husband, James, and the couple is currently expecting their first child. 

Griffin was already a father of three when his wife had routine mammogram that revealed a suspicious lump. He gave his account of walking in the home, finding Janet visibly upset, getting a cancer diagnosis, telling their children and fighting cancer as a family. 

Griffin said they “tackled cancer one day at a time with faith, family, friends, and fun.” He listed religious faith, open and honest family discussions, support from friends, humor and a positive mental attitude as his family’s coping mechanisms. They were effective. A recent checkup revealed Janet is currently cancer-free, and has been for more than five years. 

All three officers considered themselves fortunate because their stories end with beating cancer. However, one could also argue their victories were less luck and more the result of preparation, vigilance and resiliency. 

Griffin emphasized the role early detection played for his family. “Early detection [of breast cancer] is a form of resiliency,” explained Griffin. We can’t just give you a can of resiliency and say, ‘Open this up when you need it.’ You need to have your mind, body, spirit and social aspects of your life squared away. Take care of yourself every day. So, when adversity knocks on your door, you can handle it.”