MARINE CORPS AIR STATION CHERRY POINT, N.C. --
Each October, Mary B. Hill wears a pink beaded bracelet, a subtle reminder of the time she spent fighting for her life.
Hill, the joint webmaster for Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point and the 2nd Marine Aircraft Wing, looks back triumphantly on her fight with breast cancer five short years ago.
“I don’t want people to define me as a victim,” Hill said, speaking quietly but with words resonating with the adamancy, strength and confidence of a survivor. “I’m not a victim, I’m still me.”
Hill was diagnosed with breast cancer July 21, 2005, and thought her life was over.
“I was terrified,” Hill said. “I figured I was going to die, I started getting ready.”
Hill underwent a mastectomy and six rounds of chemotherapy to defeat the disease.
“It was hell, it was rough, but in the end it was worth it,” Hill said.
Her story has particular significance as the country recognizes Breast Cancer Awareness Month each October. Hill said she hopes it is not overlooked by the community at Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point, N.C., where she has worked for the past 13 years.
“Breast Cancer Awareness Month calls attention to a disease that is out there, prevalent, and bigger than most people realize,” said Hill.
Hill said she fears that women in the Marine Corps may worry more about the constant challenges faced in the military ranks than to be concerned with an outside threat like breast cancer. To women who may not be cognizant of the risk, Hill had a little advice.
“Don’t be a fool and think that it can’t happen to you,” Hill said.
The statistics prove she is right. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, breast cancer is the second leading cancer for American women. In 2006, the year Hill received her clean bill of health, 191,410 women were diagnosed with breast cancer and 40,820 women died from the disease.
To Hill, these numbers only prove the necessity for breast cancer awareness.
“Awareness is vital because early detection is key,” Hill said.
To anyone who might find themselves with the nightmarish diagnosis Hill received in 2005, she offered some guidance.
“Survival is 90 percent attitude,” Hill said. “Listen to your doctors and find support; a support group, a friend or family member.”
Hill credits her husband David and the Marines who surrounded her at work with providing that paramount support.
“My husband went with me to every treatment, every appointment,” Hill said. “I felt safe.”
After chemotherapy rendered her bald, Hill came into work to find all the Marines in her office had shaved their heads in solidarity with their colleague.
“Everyone was very protective of me,” Hill said. “It meant a lot to have their support outside of home.”
In that sentiment of solidarity and camaraderie, service members at Cherry Point’s Aviation Survival Training Center have donned pink T-shirts underneath their flight suits as a subtle tribute to breast cancer awareness.
“It’s important to pay attention to issues outside of the military, breast cancer in particular,” said Navy Lt. Sabina A. Muend, the health and wellness officer for ASTC. “We have people here who have had family members suffer from breast cancer.”
For at least one member of the Cherry Point community, the fight with breast cancer marked a period in her life that she will never forget.
“I look at life differently now that I know tomorrow could not be here,” Hill said, looking down and gently touching the sparkling pink beads that dangled from her wrist.