Overcoming breast cancer: Prior Columbus AFB secretary tells her story

  • Published
  • By Airman Davis Donaldson
  • 14th Flying Training Wing

“It’s hard to put into words what you feel when someone drops the cancer word in your lap,” said Elana Gilbert, a prior 14th Flying Training Wing secretary.

“I remember getting the phone call and I literally dropped from where I was standing onto the floor and just started crying,” said an emotional Gilbert. “It’s like someone takes your world and everything you thought you had and they flip it upside down.”

In 2018, Gilbert, 31 at the time, found a lump and did not check it out immediately. She thought it would go away with time, but it did not. After some time passed, she had the lump examined by some doctors and after running their test, identified it as cancerous.

She said telling her family and friends about her diagnosis was one of the hardest challenges of the fight.

“I remember my husband, before he even picked up the phone, knew what it was,” she said. “He was devastated.” Her husband, Tech. Sgt. Justin Gilbert, was a 14th Civil Engineering Squadron firefighter at the time.

Gilbert said she did four rounds of chemotherapy soon after the diagnosis.

“Chemo was hell,” she said. “I would get a round every three weeks. Typically, I would get there around eight o’clock in the morning and leave around 7 p.m.”

Gilbert said she had Intravenous (IV) chemo, which is the worst kind in her mind. With each round making her weaker, it was harder for doctors to find a vein to put the IV, she said.

“The first round of chemo was uneventful, it was just long,” Gilbert said. “The second chemo they missed my IV seven times. The chemo infiltrated into my skin and now, I have large scars on my arm from it. The third time I had an allergic reaction causing my lungs to start to close, and the fourth time they missed my IV five times.”

Gilbert said, when she had the strength, she would go to the gym to get on the treadmill and lift weights throughout her chemotherapy. She would also play various instruments and use art as an outlet.

Although chemotherapy tried to diminish her spirit, Gilbert would not let it ruin her interests and hobbies.

“You can go to some pretty dark places when you’re going through that,” she said. “If you have those little things you’re passionate about, like music and fitness, it helps you get through the day.”

Gilbert was able to win her battle with cancer, noting that she was lucky because she did not wait for the cancer to spread more.

Gilbert has a promising message for those struggling with chemotherapy and breast cancer. She said she knows how those women feel and can relate, and the best piece of advice she can offer is to “never quit.”

“You may feel really, really alone at times,” she said. “You may want to give up, but just know there is always someone right next to you, fighting with you that loves you. You’re not alone.”

With October being Breast Cancer Awareness Month, Gilbert said she urges women to be cognizant and go to the doctor if they think they have symptoms of breast cancer.

Angela Hamilton, 14th Operational Medical Readiness Squadron health management nurse, gave her input on how important it is for females to get screens and examine themselves.

“Women should be performing self-breasts exams frequently,” Hamilton said. “There is no way to prevent breast cancer, but early detection is the best way to stop it from spreading.”

Along with self-checks, Hamilton said women should get mammogram screening done more often as they get older or if breast cancer is hereditary. A mammogram is an X-ray doctors use to screen for early signs of breast cancer.

“I stress, at least, monthly breasts exams,” Hamilton said. “If the female is of age, I recommend they get themselves a mammogram screening. Early detection is key.”

For people wanting to know more about breast cancer, Hamilton said she is one of the resources people could use at Columbus AFB or they could visit: https://www.cdc.gov/cancer/breast/index.htm.