Cancer: One Airman’s struggle for life

  • Published
  • By Jacob R. McCarthy
  • Nellis AFB Public Affairs
"God works in mysterious ways... if I wouldn't have been trying to get a breast augmentation, I would have never found out that I had breast cancer," said Tech. Sgt. Marsha Granger, a vehicle maintenance and analyst technician with the 820th RED HORSE, and breast cancer survivor.

It's been one year since her husband had to come back from Afghanistan on an emergency flight home. It's been one year since she had to call her brother about her dangerous hereditary gene.

It's been a year she will never forget. She's been in a fight that has brought her to new understandings of herself and her place in this world. During it all, Sergeant Granger continues to hold onto her unwavering optimism and sense of humor.

Sergeant Granger's journey began in early November 2006--12 days before her 38th birthday. She received a phone call that changed her life forever.

"I went to have a mammogram done as part of my yearly physical," the Casey, Ill. native recalled. "I was called back and told they found abnormal cells and they'd need to do a biopsy."

"I've had pre-cancerous cells for several years in the past, off and on, but never in my breasts," the sergeant said. So I was sure it was nothing."

However, shortly after her biopsy the doctors found the cancer and wanted to remove it as quickly as possible.

In utter shock, Sergeant Granger had to inform her husband who was deployed and prepare for surgery.

Later that week, her surgery went as planned and her husband, now retired Master Sgt. Bryan Granger, was flown home from Afghanistan just hours after her out-patient lumpectomy.

"The Air Force and the Red Cross jumped through hoops to get my husband home," said Sergeant Granger.

Less than a week had gone by when the Grangers received another call from the hospital.

The cancer was larger than expected and more invasive surgery was required.

"I never thought I was going to die. I truly thought God meant for the cancer to be found for a reason," said the motorcycle enthusiast.

Sergeant Granger and her doctors began discussing how and where to tackle her illness. One mandatory procedure-- removing all of her breast tissue to get the rest of the growing cancer.

The Grangers decided to use the San Diego Naval Medical Center since battling the cancer sounded like it was going to be a long-term thing.

The Air Force began taking care of everything else.

"The Air Force set up all the medical appointments I needed," Sergeant Granger said. "Not one day did I have to worry financially--the military took care of me."

In the weeks following, Sergeant Granger underwent a series of reconstructive surgeries to repair damaged breast tissue caused by the cancer.

"I lost both my breasts," Sergeant Granger explained. "The right breast was completely cancerous. The cancer had got into one of my three lymph nodes, and I chose to have my left breast removed as a preventative measure."

For the next three months, from February to April 2007, Sergeant Granger underwent a total of four chemotherapy treatments in Las Vegas while continuing reconstructive surgeries in San Diego to have her breasts reconstructed.

"When I started chemo, I had some rough days, but I felt perfectly healthy," Sergeant Granger said. "There was no pain to the cancer itself though. If you have a kidney stone, there's pain. If you break an arm, there's pain. My cancer had no pain involved with it."

"The hardest part for me was the day my hair started coming out," Sergeant Granger explained. "It was a Tuesday, exactly 14 days from my first chemo treatment.

"I came home and my husband had gotten off early. I sat down and was talking to Bryan when I scratched my head and I had hair sticking to my fingers.

"When I went and took a shower, the tub was covered in hair. Then I started to cry. I stood there and bawled.

"Within a week, all my hair was absolutely gone," Sergeant Granger said.

Sergeant Granger questioned how others would look at her.

"I didn't want a bunch of people thinking there must be something wrong with me," she said. "So I wore a lot of bandanas and hats; but I had to accept the reality of my situation."

Since being diagnosed, the Air Force enabled her to come to work in civilian clothes and has purchased wigs to help with her transition.

The closest people have been a huge support system for her.

"When you go through the initial briefings with the doctors, they tell you to join some type of support group," said Granger. "I've been very blessed because of the prayers and the support of my friends. My family and my co-workers have made it possible for me to keep a positive attitude. I get up and just do my best to make the most of each day."

Her husband Bryan has been her rock.

"It's awesome God made it possible for me to find a person (my husband) who is strong enough to handle the situations we've come into," said Marsha, who has been married to Bryan for two years.

The unwavering support of those around her compelled the 15 year sergeant, to give something back.

While undergoing chemotherapy treatments and reconstructive surgery, she began training for a 60-mile, three-day walk that raises money for breast cancer research and patient support programs--the programs that benefited her throughout the year.

She walked more than 30 miles a week for months in preparation for the momentous event in San Diego held earlier this month.

"I'd walk three miles at work during physical training, then when I'd get off work, I'd meet up with a friend and we'd walk another five to seven miles," Granger said.

Not only did she walk, she has raised more than $4,000.

Deployed members from her squadron contributed more than $1,200.

On Nov. 9, less than 11 months and three weeks after entering the biggest battle of her life, Marsha joined 4,600 walkers in the Breast Cancer 3-Day, which raised more than $12 million.

Marsha recalled a man who walked past her wearing a shirt which read, 'I walk in support of my mom, in memory of my wife, and in hope of my daughter.'

"To me, those are the things that I walk for," said Sergeant Granger with a tear in her eye. "For hope."

Since her original diagnosis Marsha has no cancer cells her doctors can identify--she's fighting the disease and winning.