Winning against breast cancer with the help of TRICARE
Air Force Col. Theresa Medina, 319th Medical Group commander, and her daughter Sophia, pose for a photo at a harvest festival Oct. 7, 2017 at Grand Forks, N.D. Medina was diagnosed with stage one breast cancer on Nov. 3, 2011, but with the help of TRICARE and the support of family and friends she is now cancer free. (Courtesy photo)
GRAND FORKS AIR FORCE BASE, N.D. — “I knew my life was going to change, I knew I was not in control, and that’s what scared me the most.” These are the thoughts that ran through Air Force Col. Theresa Medina’s mind as she was notified that she was diagnosed with breast cancer.
Fifteen minutes after finding out she landed a position as a squadron commander at Davis Monthan Air Force Base, Arizona, Medina found out she was diagnosed with cancer. She would have to stop everything and start chemotherapy immediately.
“I was shocked; for 19 years I had almost no health issues, no history of breast cancer in my family,” Medina said. “I was in denial; there was nothing that could have prepared me for this news.” Initially, Medina kept the news to herself for fear of others seeing her as weak. She broke the news to close family and friends, including her daughter, which she says was the hardest part for her.
“Having to explain to my 3-year-old daughter that mommy would have to go to the hospital was heartbreaking,” she said. “I can recall telling her that I would be losing my long hair and what she said still gets me emotional to this day; ‘Mommy, it’s OK, we’ll do this together.’ Her positivity and her understanding at her age was part of what gave me the strength to get through and fight it.”
Even as she underwent constant treatments, Medina still managed to maintain her position as a squadron commander and as an Airman overall. The fear of not knowing what would be the outcome of each treatment quickly became a faint thought in the back of her mind as she strived to stay positive no matter what she was going through.
“There were treatments after treatments every day, new medication that I didn’t know how my body would react to,” she said. “And that’s how it is with treating cancer, you never know what to expect. I looked at it as having a mission to complete; to get well and get back to work.”
After going through countless treatments and labs, good news finally came. Medina learned her cancer was stage one, meaning the risk and remaining treatments would not be as severe and the possibility of the cancer coming back would be lessened.
“When I heard the news that I had stage one cancer, I was relieved,” she said. “I had been receiving nothing but great care, and I was thankful that I would be able to finish up the treatment sooner rather than later.”
Medina gives credit to the many civilian and military doctors who played a role in her journey to recovery from day one to today. The TRICARE office took careful steps to set her up with the best treatment center and surgeons in her area.
“I am extremely grateful and appreciative for TRICARE. There would be times when I would go in the doctor’s office and see other patients struggling to figure out where their co-pays would come from or how they would be able to afford the $8,000 treatments, but TRICARE covered all of those expenses for me,” she said. “They ensured I was seen by the best, and in return I am cancer free.”
When unforeseen situations like these occur, military members and their families rely on TRICARE for all medical issues. TRICARE provides medical coverage for active duty members and their dependents. While different regions have different avenues, it is important that members stay in the know when it comes to their regions.
As the medical group commander, Medina highly recommends members visit their local TRICARE office for any questions or concerns.
She said, “our number one concern is for our patients, we want to provide you with the best care possible.”
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