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Military Moms Speak Out on Breast Cancer

By Lt. Rick Haupt, USN
Special to American Forces Press Service

SAN DIEGO, Oct. 7, 1998 – Publicity was the last thing Air Force Tech. Sgt. Melynn Reid and Navy Petty Officer First Class Marsha Craten were thinking of when they were diagnosed with breast cancer. Following their recovery, though, they've found themselves in the limelight of DoD's breast cancer prevention, diagnosis and education program.

Reid and Craten, who've been featured on local television news programs and a nationwide poster campaign, spoke Sept. 15 to attendees at the annual DoD breast cancer conference here.

"When I was first diagnosed, I couldn't believe it was happening to me," Reid said. "I had always been active and healthy. I really focused on getting well and not letting the experience get me down."

Reid, 35, an aircraft technician now assigned to Edwards Air Force Base, Calif., was diagnosed with breast cancer in June 1997 while serving at Kadena Air Base, Okinawa, Japan. Seven days later, she was medically evacuated to Naval Medical Center San Diego for surgery. She began chemotherapy in July 1997 and radiation therapy in November.

"The hardest day came following my recovery, when I put my wig away," Reid said. "My hair had changed color when it came back in, and I felt as though my identity had changed. It was really hard, but getting rid of the wig allowed me to shed the last part of being sick."

Craten, 37, a storekeeper at the Space and Naval Warfare Systems Center here, was diagnosed with breast cancer in December 1996. In January 1997, she found out she was pregnant. She underwent surgery during the sixth week of her pregnancy to remove the cancerous cells. Following the delivery of a healthy and happy baby daughter in September 1997, she underwent eight weeks of radiation therapy.

"The cancer was a shock, but dealing with the pregnancy caused for some difficult decisions," Craten said. "I decided to have surgery during my pregnancy, knowing that I would be at higher risk for a miscarriage. It was a tough decision, but everything came out good and I don't regret it. My experience made me reach out to others. For everything this hospital (Naval Medical Center San Diego) has done for me, sharing my story is the least I could do."

"If I can help one person by telling my story, it will be well worth it," Reid said. "I'm proud to be associated with the TRICARE breast cancer program."

Disease management is an integral component of the managed care approach to medicine. TRICARE Southern California's breast cancer program relies on clinical screening exams by primary care managers, mammograms, extensive patient education and patient self-exams. Similar breast care programs exist throughout DoD and TRICARE.

"Disease management is a comprehensive approach to care that focuses on the natural course of a particular disease process," said Navy Dr. (Capt.) Barry Cohen, head of clinical operations for TRICARE Southern California. "It targets populations who either currently have a particular disease, or who are at high risk for developing it, by emphasizing strategies for disease prevention and maintaining wellness in those already afflicted."

In 1997, Cohen's office established breast education centers at outlying military treatment facilities in Southern California and a breast health center at Naval Medical Center San Diego. These centers, each staffed with a registered nurse, educate women on the latest facts on prevention and early diagnosis of the disease. They refer patients as needed to the breast health center in San Diego. The breast health center, staffed by a psychologist, physical therapist, dietitian, social worker and various doctors and nurses, is a comprehensive clinic for all types of breast disease.

Reid, whose husband is also on active duty in the Air Force, was selected for promotion to master sergeant in June and is expecting to deliver their fifth child in January.

"I'm blessed with a good career and wonderful husband and family," she said. "We weren't expecting to have another child, but had I not overcome the disease, it would have never even been possible. I'm very thankful to be here today."

(Navy Lt. Rick Haupt is assigned to the TRICARE Southern California Public Affairs Office.)

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