Forward March!

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The drill sergeant yelled in a forceful voice, “Forward … March!” Ears alert and now at the position of attention, it was time for me to move. Then the cadence — Hup, 2, 3, 4; and my squad took off timed and in formation to the next destination.

My chance to experience the rhythms and synthesis of this movement came in three ways. First, as an army private going through basic training — learning the ways of my newfound career field. Next, as an officer candidate, going through an intensive character building experience — where I grasped the weight and wonders of leadership. And lastly, as a 2nd lieutenant assigned to a basic training unit, conducting orientation for recruits into the army community. Through those experiences, the purpose of movement was revealed with very disciplined and structured methods. It was about the march.

Sometimes the marches were forced — the enemy closing in, the charge then to move out smartly and fast. Other times movement came with inspirational energy, singing cadences while committed to the task with unity for God and country. The value of planning, resourcefulness and focus were also imbedded in my training lessons.

My military experiences taught me much and have proven to be very foundational as I’ve pursued other goals and dealt with challenges along my journey.

So one never knows how these tutorials may meaningfully converge around seemingly separate life events. I am now a 6-year breast cancer survivor. The diagnosis tested my soul, sense of self and ultimate purpose.

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I couldn’t even say the word cancer initially — referring to it as the “c-word. Surgery, chemotherapy, doctors’ checkups, medications, and diagnostic tests — all would consume my time and energy because of this condition occupying my body. I knew that I needed help to get through this ordeal of many proportions. There was so much to understand in order to make the right decisions with my medical team about the best treatment plan.

As in the Army, win or lose, I knew it was critical to have a strategy so I could march forward, in spite of being “forced to do the thing I wish I didn’t have to do.”

Still alive! The six years since my diagnosis have yielded many lessons — some painful, some surprising. During Breast Cancer Awareness Month, I want to share what I learned with those who have or will endure the physical and emotional realities of dealing with this disease. Here are some teachable moments that I gleaned from my Army training that kept me on track through the ups and downs of my breast cancer battle:

* Know the Enemy — Learn about breast cancer and specifically your type. Google and read to be able to ask specific questions of your doctors. Talk to other survivors about their experiences but take in what’s most helpful for your situation.

* Fight on Multiple Fronts — Explore conventional and alternative practices such as nutrition, supplements or meditation. Rest but also do things that make you feel good based on whatever your physical condition allows.

* Set Up Camp — Focus on what will get you through the physical and emotional challenges, then ensure your home and surroundings support your healing and comfort. Don’t be afraid to ask others to join your camp — ask for help for whatever your needs might be based on your financial, spiritual or family status.

* Plan the Attack — Get resources in order to understand your body. Know what signals and symptoms it gives you. Organize your questions and notes by keeping a medical portfolio. Use technology when possible (or allowed) to record communications with medical team. Take others with you to appointments for support (and they learn too!)

* Discipline Yourself — Don’t stop your life. Find ways to keep working if you can and stay involved in other community or worship commitments. Intentionally engage on a regular basis.

* Call on Strengths — Be, know and do. Reflect back on other tough times and how you’ve gotten through. What makes you, you!

* Go Through the Right Training — Use support groups and other venues to learn. Some hospitals have navigators that help you understand the healthcare systems and resources available for cancer patients.

* Study Former Heroes Doctrines — There are lots of she-ro and hero survival stories to be found. Attend local conferences for survivors sponsored by hospitals or the American Cancer Society, Susan Komen, Y Me, etc.

* It’s About Teamwork — The medical professionals, support system, and integrated efforts are all there to help you succeed in the battle. Ensure communication and coordination from all of these groups is in place. Be the drill sergeant!

* Be Decisive and Lead! — Practice positive self-talk. Deal with your fears but try to keep a sense of humor. Yes, I will and can move forward!

Deborah Parker is the principal consultant of the DPJ Training Group, a leadership and personal development workshop company located in Leesburg, Va. She is also the author of the newly released book, “Navigating Life’s Roadways: Stories of Insight from My Odyssey and Inspiration for Your Journey.”