By Airman 1st Class Regina Agoha
19th Airlift Wing Public Affairs
Oct. 20, 2012, at approximately 6:25 a.m. in North Little Rock, Laura Jean Gayles, also known as, “Momma Jena,” and Janet Foster, are bright-eyed, smiling and dressed almost completely in pink. Though they are surrounded by thousands of strangers, they said they feel at home. As the countdown begins, ten… nine… eight… massive cheers spread throughout the crowd like wildfire in a forest.
Go! And they’re off. The mass of people cross the starting line and walk. Though their experiences may have been different, everyone there had one common purpose, to walk/jog/run for a cure for breast cancer. Team Little Rock Members, Gayles and Foster, both breast cancer survivors, have participated in the Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure every year since defeating their battles with breast cancer and urge everyone to start monthly self-exams.
In 2001, 72-year-old Gayles, child program assistant at one of the two Child Development Centers on Little Rock Air Force Base, said she was devastated when she was diagnosed with breast cancer. For six weeks she endured radiation, but throughout her treatment, she never stopped working and always kept going.
“I am so thankful for the medicine, doctors, nurses, the ladies at the center and just the everyday people in my life that helped me through it,” she said. “My husband was my backbone all the way through everything.”
After her radiation was complete Gayles’ cancer was gone.
“Words can’t explain how I felt,” she said. “I was overjoyed.”
Though Gayles has been a survivor for 11 years, she still has to do regular annual checkups with her oncologist and her surgeon. Since her devastating diagnosis in 2001, Gayles said she makes sure she does her self-exams and encourages others to do the same, especially if there’s any type of cancer history in their family.
Janet Foster, a child program assistant and also a breast cancer survivor, said self-exams are very important.
“I didn’t have the normal signs of breast cancer,” said Foster. “No lumps. No abnormalities. If I hadn’t gone in to get a mammogram, it would have been too late for me because my cancer was so aggressive. From the time I got the mammogram and the test to see if the lump was cancerous to the time of the surgery, which was three months, my cancer had already started spreading. I did the self-exams, but it was in the milk ducts. So, I felt no lump.”
Foster was diagnosed two years ago in April. At the time of her diagnosis she said she wasscared because her cancer was aggressive. She had to do six treatments of chemotherapy, one every two weeks and radiation therapy once a week for six weeks. She was able to come to work during only four treatments, but the treatments eventually became too difficult, and she had to stay home.
“Gayles was there for me every step of the way,” said Foster. “With her having gone through this nine years earlier, she knew exactly what I needed. She brought me everything I would need for the chemo. It’s nice to have someone there who knows what you’re going through. She’s like a mother to me.”
In March, after almost one year after Foster’s diagnosis, she became cancer free.
“I celebrated when I found out,” she said. “I was so excited.”
Since Foster’s diagnosis, she said her life has changed because if she finds out someone is going through cancer and needs help, she’s there.
“I didn’t know what people go through until I went through it myself,” she said. “I want people to know that they’re not alone.”
For 11 years now, Gayles gets a team together to be a part of the Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure. They both said they walk to remember what they went through and to meet others who’ve been through the same or are going through the same.
“The walk is like a celebration,” said Foster. “It keeps you aware of what you’ve been through. You talk to other people and share stories. That’s how you deal with cancer… with other people. I’ve been walking for two years.”
For those men and women who haven’t been doing their monthly self-exams, Gayles and Foster urge everyone to start.
“It is critical,” said Foster. “You need to get the checkups. Do your self-checks once a month, but also get mammograms once a year because there’s not always a lump.”
“Please try and do it,” said Gayles. “Get to know someone who can help you understand the importance of knowing what’s going on in your body. It could be the difference between life and death.”