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News | June 11, 2024

Walter Reed Champions Holistic Health Care During Cancer Survivorship Day Open House

By James Black, WRNMMC, Office of Command Communications

The atmosphere inside the Murtha Cancer Center (MCC) on Cancer Survivorship Day, June 6, 2024, resembled a reunion filled with cancer survivors, caretakers, and health care professionals all reconnecting and championing the goal of living with passion and purpose.

Cancer Is a Journey That Requires a Supportive Community

“We want Murtha here at Walter Reed to be the centerpiece of excellence for cancer care and where research is promulgated,” said retired U.S. Army Col. (Dr.) Craig D. Shriver, the director of the MCC and the MCC Research Program ( MCCRP), during his opening remarks.

MCC is the only Department of Defense Center of Excellence for cancer, and in 2023 published a groundbreaking, collaborative study indicating that cancer patients treated within the Military Health System (MHS) generally received earlier cancer diagnoses than privately insured or Medicaid patients.

In closing, Shriver expressed his appreciation for the tireless efforts of Marie Borsellino, the survivorship coordinator for the MCCRP, in organizing Cancer Survivor Day and continually partnering with volunteers, mental health experts and nutritionists in creating a holistic environment where patients may heal.

U.S. Army Chaplain (Maj.) Vincent Bain opened the Cancer Survivor Day observance with a thoughtful prayer befitting the spiritual, mental and physical journeys shared by the survivors, encouraging each to “live one day at a time.”

Profiles in Courage: Cancer Survivors Share Their Journeys

“My cancer journey began on April 19, 2010, as a midshipman at the United States Naval Academy when I was 20 years old and I had big dreams of becoming a naval officer,” shared U.S. Navy Lt. Cmdr. Blake C. Lusty, a special assistant to the chief of naval operations.

Following his cancer diagnosis, Lusty began mentally preparing himself to have tough conversations with his family and friends. “The battlefield for me was going into chemo, going into surgeries, and following up with all the bloodwork and CT scans.”

Don’t Give Up the Ship

Lusty adopted what has become an enduring battle cry “Don’t Give Up the Ship,” as his personal credo, propelling him to stay the course despite the rough seas.

“I want to be remembered as a fighter that never gave up despite the uncertain, insurmountable odds,” explained Lusty.

During his cancer treatment, Lusty took summer courses at the Naval Academy, keeping his mind sharp even taking his textbooks with him during his chemo treatments. Once Lusty’s cancer went into remission, he accepted a position in naval intelligence, temporarily foregoing his dream of serving aboard a ship.

As Lusty’s military career winds down this summer, he expressed his gratitude to the Walter Reed community for seeing him through his unforeseen cancer journey.

“What I hope I can pass to fellow cancer survivors is the following: ‘Don’t let statistics define you,’“ said Lusty. “ ‘Remember that no matter what your diagnosis is on day one, you define how you will be remembered, and your legacy will live on.’ ”

Lusty wants his legacy to be one of community service. He plans on becoming a financial advisor to philanthropic institutions after earning a graduate degree from the Harvard School of Business.

Surviving and Thriving

“They say appearances can be deceiving. You might look at me and not see a hint of the journey I tackle every single day,” shared Shontè Drakeford, a self-described native Washingtonian, nurse practitioner, and Army spouse. “But the truth is, I’m 40 years old and I am living with Stage IV metastatic breast cancer that has spread to my lungs, multiple spots in my spine, ribs, left hip, and lymph nodes.”

Drakeford was diagnosed with cancer in June 2015 when she was 31 years old. “I tried my hardest to ‘catch it early,’ as they say ; since the age of 25 I had symptoms of breast cancer, but there was never any confirmation [with my previous health care provider].”

“I had fibrocystic breast, dense breast, and nipple discharge, with a lump that grew up to 8 cm upon diagnosis,” explained Drakeford. “But I don’t get upset and up in arms about the past because I can’t change it; I focus on the future because I can change that, and I advocate to prevent that from occurring to anyone else.”

Overall, about 11 percent of all breast cancers occur in women younger than 45, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). An estimated 26,393 women under 45 are expected to be diagnosed with breast cancer this year. And every year, more than 1,000 women under age 40 die from breast cancer.

Living Beautifully

Drakeford grew up in foster care, navigating the complexities of life in the inner city of Washington, D.C. “But those challenges didn’t define me,” emphasized Drakeford. “They shaped me, and in a way prepared me for the journey to come. I choose to say journey over battle because I did not choose this, battles are chosen, and journeys emphasize the ongoing treatment and strength required to navigate it, “confided Drakeford.

“Cancer may have changed my path, but it hasn’t dimmed my spirit. It’s shown me the strength I possess, and the love that surrounds me,” shared Drakeford. “I choose to live beautifully, each and every day. And I hope you do too. Use your resources, go to support groups, find yourself a cancer friend, and vent to your good buddies.”

To learn more about the Murtha Cancer Center, visit this link:

To learn more about the Murtha Cancer Center Research Program, visit these links:
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