MACDILL AIR FORCE BASE, Fla. – Clenching her husband’s hand in the waiting area of a doctor’s office in Tampa, Florida, is not the way she imagined spending her 39th birthday.
In 2002, Virginia Carter, a senior financial analyst for U.S. Special Operations Command, Acquisition, Technology and Logistics, found a lump in her breast during a self-examination at home, prompting her to seek immediate medical care.
“A doctor told me I was too young and it was probably just calcium buildup,” Carter said.
The initial diagnosis didn’t sit well with Carter, so she went to seek a second opinion. Immediately, the second doctor scheduled her for a mammogram and the results were clear – she had breast cancer. Carter was no stranger to breast cancer since her grandmother had it, and decided to have the lump removed and began to fight back with chemotherapy and radiation.
“Two weeks after I started chemotherapy, I lost every strand of hair on my body,” said Carter.
Carter, a woman with an exceptional work ethic continued to work throughout the often arduous and exhausting treatments.
After losing all of her hair, Carter decided to start wearing a wig to work. This was the first time she ever wore one, but that act coupled with everything else she was going through enabled Carter to find the silver lining in her circumstance and strengthened her already strong faith.
“It felt like people were always staring at my wig, so I would always ask, ‘is it crooked’ just to make light of the situation,” Carter explained.
Although she might have felt others were staring at her, SOF AT&L co-workers never treated Carter differently. David Saren, the deputy director of Science and Technology, SOF AT&L, has been a co-worker, mentor and friend to Carter for 15 years.
“I tried to act as if nothing had changed while making an extra effort to do things I knew she liked or that would provide some distraction,” said Saren.
She is a woman of strong character, a lot of it is based on her faith and she’s a naturally positive person Saren continued.
“It was a long journey,” Carter stated.
On that lengthy course, Carter had six surgeries on one breast and three surgeries on the other; much to her relief, only the first lump was cancerous. Carter has since devoted much of her time to the American Cancer Society.
“I didn’t know anyone my age that had walked in my shoes; I didn’t have anyone to talk to; and I wanted to be that support for others,” Carter said.
Carter hasn’t been quiet about her journey either. She has counseled people who are experiencing cancer, and supports families of loved ones going through cancer treatments. She also volunteers for fundraising events such as Relay for Life, was featured in several cancer society fundraisers, and participated in the annual fashion show at River Hills Country Club in Valrico, Florida.
Carter received the American Cancer Society Courage Award in 2004 and the American Cancer Society Volunteer of the Year Award in 2009. She continues to stay involved in her community, educating everyone she can about life after breast cancer. Carter doesn’t volunteer to seek attention; she just wants to be an example for other women who have to walk in these shoes.
“I’ve always felt like things could be worse, I have some dear friends who have lost their battle with cancer; I believe early detection is the best protection against breast cancer or any kind of cancer because you know your body better than anyone else,” Carter stated.
Today, Carter not only celebrates the day of her birth but the day she beat cancer.