NELLIS AIR FORCE BASE, Nev. -- “I’m going to die.”
This was the thought that played on repeat in the mind of Master Sgt. Randi Ross, 926th Wing yellow ribbon program coordinator, as she sat on the phone with her doctor days before Christmas in 2016. She listened in disbelief as her doctor told her she had ductal carcinoma in situ.
“I knew what it meant, breast cancer, but I just kept saying you must have the wrong paper,” Ross said.
In shock, she sat listening as memories of a past cancer diagnosis and its outcome flooded her mind.
Memories of taking her husband to the emergency room for stomach pain and hearing the diagnosis of stage 4 colon cancer. Memories of a once healthy husband fighting through chemotherapy only to die six months and one day after diagnosis.
Widowed at 23, Ross knew first-hand the physical, emotional and mental realities that came along with a cancer diagnosis.
“Taking care of man in a way you never thought you would take care of someone, broke me down,” she said.
Prior to her breast cancer diagnosis at the age of 30, Ross had been rebuilding her life and learning how to be happy again.
“After being widowed and going through that death, it really set me back about being paranoid, about happiness,” she said. “I didn’t know what the right forward motion was.”
She decided to start over again in Miami. A few years later, she met someone, they dated, got married and two months after their honeymoon found out they were pregnant.
“Life just really started kicking off,” she said.
But with her breast cancer diagnosis, Ross was again faced with an uncertain future.
Due to the nature of her cancer, Ross and her doctors set an aggressive treatment plan. She had her first oncologist appointment on Jan. 16, 2017. Twelve days later, she was in surgery having her medical port installed. Two days later, she was in her first chemotherapy session.
“I was writing down what she [the doctor]was saying, but at the same time thinking, are we really going to do this?” Ross said.
While she was terrified to go through what her first husband experienced, she found the courage to begin the journey through her husband and son, knowing they were counting on her.
Looking back on a diary Ross kept, she said there were some really dark moments when the chemotherapy became too overwhelming and she didn’t think she could keep going. She credits her resiliency on the absolute and unconditional support of her friends, family and coworkers.
“It was the things I didn’t ask for that really pushed my recovery,” she said. “The people around me really recovered me.”
The unconditional support came in all forms throughout Ross’ recovery. The video from her troops filled with words of encouragement after her first chemotherapy session; the coworker who hand fed her when she didn’t want to eat; the leaders in her organization who shaved their heads when she lost her hair – her support system was there through it all.
Ross also said finding her inner strength kept her fighting. She was able to work through the treatment and found comfort in staying active.
“You get into a really dark place, being at work pulled me out of those dark places,” Ross said. “I just battled through it, I worked and I battled.”
When all was said and done, Ross had endured 17 rounds of chemotherapy, a double mastectomy and 27 days of radiation therapy.
Ross is now cancer free, and while she admits getting nervous during routine doctors’ visits, she isn’t letting her past battles hold her back. She said she knows life happens and she is okay for now.
“A counselor told me once, life seems bad now, but it will be okay. I look back and I beat cancer and I’m okay,” Ross said.