Red, white, blue, pink: Serving the country and fighting cancer

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Daniel Blackwell
  • 20th Fighter Wing Public Affairs
In 2013 alone, there were 296,980 new cases of breast cancer in America. This number crosses the boundaries of age, color, culture, occupation, socioeconomic status, political background and religious affiliation.

In September 2008, retired United States Air Force Senior Master Sgt. Ronshella White became such a statistic, despite having spent the past 22 years of her life giving selflessly to others and her country.

Yet even in the face of such a grim diagnosis, White remained resilient and hopeful while she continued to give back to others.

"I self-diagnosed through my monthly breast check," White explained. "After I found a lump, the doctor did a biopsy and I was diagnosed with breast cancer."

"My reaction was calm; I didn't cry or shout," she continued. "I respected the fact that I wasn't the first person to battle cancer. My insight is to never give up; I know everything happens for a reason."

At the time of her diagnosis, White had accepted the position of career assistance advisor. She felt there is a strong correlation in leading effectively and the attitudes one demonstrates in the face of personal hardships.

"When you live your life counseling and encouraging others," White said, "your words and actions are held in high regard. The Air Force has been extremely good to me and has trained and equipped me through the years to lead and persevere through adversity."

Aside from those she counsels and leads professionally, White remained strong for her son and family as well.

"I want my son to be proud of his mother through the good times and bad," White explained. "That being said, I have to practice what I preach."

"Through it all, my mother kept smiling," J.T. White, her son, said. "She still participated in all my school activities, cancer awareness events, and with our family and friends."

"She never missed a beat," he added. "I'm so proud of my mom, she's my hero."

After receiving her diagnosis, White was told she'd have to start chemotherapy as soon as possible.

Chemotherapy is the most common treatment and is physically and mentally taxing because of the harshness and intensity of the chemicals used to eliminate the cancer.

White recalls that going through chemotherapy required a lot of resilience and mental fortitude.

"My treatment absolutely required resiliency," White said. "They placed a tube in my chest to administer my medicine for the treatment because my veins were too weak to withstand the medicine directly," White explained.

"I had to prepare myself, mentally and physically, for weeks and months of this treatment," she continued. "I also had to cope with the side effects and aftermath of all the medication I was subjected to and learn how, and what, I could eat all over again."

White recalled that Ivette Bohannan, 20th Medical Group case coordinator, and Bobbi Pound, 20th MDG case manager, helped greatly in her ability to adapt and accept the rapid changes in her life throughout treatment.

White also attributes a large amount of her success, hope, and optimism to the support and love of her family and her faith as a Christian.

"I am very grateful for my friends and family and the strength that they provide me by being themselves and not treating me like a patient or diseased person," White said.

"I also have never doubted that God had a plan for me," she added. "I remain resilient because I trust in God and I know that 'God don't make no junk'."

During her junior enlisted years, prior to being diagnosed with cancer, White began participating in breast cancer awareness programs and events.

"Since I joined the Air Force, one of my first activities as a young Airman was participating in a cancer walk," White explained. "I spoke with two women that day, whose courage and strength changed my life."

"I was overwhelmed by their dedication, love, and support for the program," she continued. "I knew that as long as God blessed me to draw breath, I would support the pink ribbon."

"Reflecting back," she added. "It almost seems as if God was preparing me for this battle my whole life."

Currently, White is battling liver and bone cancer that spread from her initial breast cancer. Yet even in the midst of this battle she remains resilient and active in her community with the support and love of her family, friends and faith.

"My mother taught me that cancer can happen to anyone and that's life," J.T. said. "But how you react defines you."

Helping others remains one of Whites top priorities.

"We're only successful when we pay it forward," White said.

White desires to maintain her optimism and fight each day.

"I know I'm not dying of cancer," she said. "I am learning how to live with it and live more abundantly, which ironically has been a good adventure so far."

Editor's notes:
White wrote a letter of thanks to her family and friends and her fellow service members to express her thanks for their support with her battles with cancer. It reads as follows...

To my Air Force family and dear friends,
To all I have had the privilege to serve among in the United States Air Force, Thank you!

Your presence in my life has given me strength and played a key role in me becoming the wingman, leader and warrior that I am today. My bitter-sweet feelings are overpowered by the joy of knowing I am leaving our Air Force in good hands. Precious moments will go with me as I move into the next phase of my life. J.T. and I are very grateful for your love and support throughout the past 27 years.

Keep the torch lit. I thank you for the love you have for me, our Air Force, and the United States of America.

May God go with each of you and your families; keeping you safe and secure.