An Airman's story: My mother didn't fight alone

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Ceaira Tinsley
  • 23d Wing Public Affairs
His green eyes frantically searched the crowd for his dying mother. During his final pass and review at basic military training (BMT) he saw her in the stands, cheering him on. A year later, she was gone.

"I have breast cancer" are probably the last words a new Airman wants to hear his mother say, but it was a reality for U.S. Air Force Airman 1st Class Joseph Chaney, 23d Force Support Squadron (FSS), personnelist.

In the midst of what seemed like a never ending battle, Chaney embarked on a journey to make his mother proud. He joined the Air Force and BMT proved to be the biggest challenge he faced during his mother's fight.

"When I was in BMT she had multiple blood transfusions," said Chaney, who described himself as a co-survivor for his mother. "During basic, when we had time to call, I was calling my mother. I wouldn't call anybody else. I was calling my mother to see how she was doing."

Unsure if everything with his mother was alright, he recalled what it was like waiting for phone privileges.

"I was racing to the end of the week on Saturday just to call her, hoping that she'd be alive to see me march at the end of basic," said Chaney. "I knew I was losing my mother so it was hard to focus."

Completing BMT might have taught him about his inner strength, but watching his mother fight breast cancer flaunted her strength.

"I was right there with her and I saw her struggle," said Chaney. "She never gave up hope; she never told me that she was losing. She always had that high motivation."

In spite of everything, when Chaney is having a tough time he often pauses and says "what would mom do" and in an instant he can envision her at one of his childhood sporting events. His mother, best friend and cheerleader is the loudest person in the stands, screaming over all of the other parents telling him to keep going.

He cherishes these memories and they reinforce what Chaney already believes. His mother's spirit will always be there cheering him on as his No.1 supporter.

The loss of a parent can bring about many lessons, but just as his mother always valued education Chaney uses her death as a learning experience.

"One thing I learned was that my mother never quit," said Chaney. "She went to work with no hair and then she'd come home and ask me how my day was going. She never let the disease take control of her."

Throughout his struggle, Chaney received support from his fellow Airmen.

"The whole FSS's support was unbelievable and it still is," he said. "Last year, they did breast cancer awareness [events] in honor of my mother. Moody has been great and I can't say it enough."

Chaney's wingmen offered him support, listening ears and even shoulders to cry on.

"For the most part whatever he needed we would be there to help him along and [the 23d FSS] did a breast cancer awareness run with him," said Master Sgt. Ivan Aguigui, 23d FSS superintendent of manpower.

Just as Chaney's fellow Airmen reached out to help him cope, in the same fashion he finds different ways to help others facing similar situations.

Chaney participates in breast cancer walks and donates to several breast cancer charities including, the ongoing Combined Federal Campaign that is being supported Department of Defense-wide.

If given the opportunity to give advice to someone fighting breast cancer, Chaney said he would say not to focus on the disease too much; focus on your family, focus on your people, focus on your support and stay motivated.

The number of women expected to die from breast cancer is alarming and Chaney vows to forever be an advocate for breast cancer awareness.

According to the American Cancer Society, approximately 232,760 women are expected to die from breast cancer this year. October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month and people wearing pink in support can be spotted all around to spread the word.

"For the rest of my life, not just this month, I want to spread the word and let people know that the things we worry about are not that important," said Chaney. "Breast cancer is taking a lot of women; mothers, daughters and wives. We've got to realize that and we have to do something about it. My hope is one day as time goes by, we develop more research and find a cure for this."