By Senior Airman Harry Brexel
19th Airlift Wing Public Affairs
Growing up knowing there is a hidden danger lurking outside your door is not a comforting thought as a child, teenager or young adult. For Allison Padgett, being aware of the dangers of breast cancer is something she’s dealt with since she was a young girl.
“My grandmother, aunts and mother all had breast cancer,” said Padgett, a staff sergeant assigned to the 714th Training Squadron as a C-130 loadmaster and instructor. “So there is a clear history of it in my family.”
As a young woman, Padgett made routine visits to the doctor for mammogram tests and biopsies. The tests brought up nothing of urgent concern until mid-2014.
“Doctors told me that precancerous cells may be present, but no clinical diagnosis could be made due to all the scar tissue I had,” Padgett said.
The scar tissue was formed from the multitude of biopsies that Padgett underwent throughout her life.
“I consulted multiple doctors and three different surgeons told me the same thing,” Padgett said. “I could either wait for the prognosis to turn into something more serious or I could have a bilateral mastectomy performed.”
A bilateral mastectomy involves the removal of both breasts. The surgery greatly lowers the risk of developing cancer. For Padgett, it wasn’t a very difficult decision.
“I didn’t want what happened to my mother to happen to me,” Padgett said. “Her cancer progressed and she had to go through radiation and chemotherapy.”
A consummate professional and passionate about being a loadmaster, her career played a huge part in Padgett’s decision to get the mastectomy. Her no nonsense attitude that makes her a good noncommissioned officer has also helped her meet the challenges of beating cancer head on.
“I’m a take-charge flyer,” she said. “I like to be in control and secure my flying career. I could have gotten sick and diagnosed with cancer if I didn’t choose to have surgery. I wouldn’t be able to do my job. It would be soul-crushing to never fly again.”
In August of 2014, Padgett underwent the invasive surgery while stationed to Little Rock Air Force Base, Arkansas. The mastectomy went well but it was the first of many operations. Complications arose during multiple reconstructive surgeries.
Eventually, Padgett bounced back and received a clean bill of health before heading back to instructing loadmaster students.
Those who work and serve with Padgett admire her attitude toward the decision.
“I’ve never met anybody that would willingly give up so much to ensure their flying career or Air Force career,” said Senior Master Sgt. Randall Ransburgh, 714th TRS superintendent. “Her drive and commitment embodies service before self.”
For many people, cancer involves pain, fear or sadness. Padgett used it as a learning opportunity.
“The whole experience taught me a lot,” said Padgett. “I never felt victimized. I was scared but I knew it didn’t have to be dramatic. I was terrified and there were moments of tears, but I’m just not the type to be very emotional.”
Being an advocate for breast cancer awareness is a very important to Padgett.
“I definitely encourage friends to get a check-up,” she said. “I participate in Race for the Cure and donate to Susan G. Komen when I can. I just appreciate life and people more.”
Now healthy, Padgett is still able to perform her job as an Air Force loadmaster instructor. She contributes to teaching approximately 1,400 students each year from over 40 different countries.
“I fly whenever I get the chance to,” Padgett said. “I love to instruct and I love teaching new students. That’s what it is all about. I may work with my students in deployed environments and it feels good knowing that I’ve helped teach them what they know. ”