Breast Cancer Survivor Inspires Awareness

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Victoria Nelson
  • 157th Air Refueling Wing

In 2019, on a temporary duty assignment at Altus Air Force Base, a pilot from the 157th Operations Group found a lump in her breast.

“I was just doing a self-check,” said Col. Amy Lou Emanuel Bassett, the New Hampshire Air National Guard director of plans and programs and a breast cancer survivor.

“It was between mammograms and annual physicals so I made an appointment with my doctor for when I came home,” she said. “They sent me for a mammogram, I had a biopsy and when the results came back I was positive for breast cancer.”

Emanuel Bassett had a spontaneously occurring type of breast cancer that has no genetic markers and is not hormone driven. Based on reports from the National Breast Cancer Foundation, one in every eight women around the world develop breast cancer. Many individuals like Emanuel Bassett have no warning markers.

October is nationally recognized as Breast Cancer Awareness Month. The goal is to raise awareness of breast cancer signs and symptoms and emphasize the importance of early diagnosis.

“If something feels or looks abnormal, go get it checked out,” said Emanuel Bassett. “It doesn’t hurt to talk to your doctor because prevention is key. If they know about it early there is so much they can do to stop it.”

According to the NBCF, symptoms include a lump or swelling in the breast, upper chest or armpit, abnormal changes in breast or nipple color, shape or size, and unusual nipple discharge.

“Touch, look, check, are the recommended prevention measures,” said Capt. Jamie Boutin, a clinical nurse with the 157th Medical Group and a family nurse practitioner with Maine General Health.

This means that individuals should touch their breasts to feel for anything new or unusual, look for changes and check any noticeable differences with their general provider.

“When assessing breasts, check all parts from the armpits up to the collarbone,” said Boutin. “It is recommended that women over 40 get an annual mammogram but individuals should check regularly no matter the size or shape of their breasts.”

“It’s also important to note men can be diagnosed too,” she said.

Based on a report by the American Association for Cancer Research, one in every 833 men develop breast cancer. Males have similar indicators and risk factors as women.

“The main risk factor is being female but hereditary breast cancer accounts for about 10 percent of all diagnoses,” explained Boutin. “Risk factors for both men and women include high levels of estrogen, radiation exposure, family history of breast cancer, dense breast tissue, smoking, obesity and not getting enough exercise.”

Emanuel Bassett said treatments often consist of a combination of surgery, radiation, chemotherapy, hormone and targeted therapies. The type of treatment is based on the type and stage of the cancer as well as the patient’s body.

“My treatment lasted two years,” she said. “I don't think my body would have reacted as well without a good attitude, so I hunted for the good stuff and focused on being positive. I tried to lift up those around me and just make more good days than bad days. It wasn’t sunshine and roses. It was tough."

Breast cancer is a war in the human body. According to the NBCF, it is the most commonly diagnosed cancer in the world and the second highest cause of cancer-related deaths in women.

“I remember when Amy Lou called me and told me what was going on,” said Col. Jeff Cole, the state director of operations for the New Hampshire National Guard. “She just battled. The goal was always ‘when I get back to flying’ and ‘when I’m through my treatments.’ We all knew that Amy Lou was going to get back to flying because she said she was going to get back to flying.”

“That was three years ago and now here she is going back to training,” he added. “She fought to get back to a mission and organization she cares deeply about, and we’re excited to have her back.”

Emanuel Bassett was cleared to fly in May of 2022. She is scheduled to return to a flying-status position once she completes her KC-46 training.

“I am so excited to get out there and do the mission,” Emanuel Bassett exclaimed. “I wouldn’t be here without my family and the incredible support the Operations Group showed me. There were a lot of hurdles but they supported me through it all.”

"I can't wait to be out on the road with this airplane and move on to the next chapter but, I also recognize I am not the first or the last person to be fighting against breast cancer on this base,” she added. "You never think it’s going to happen to you but you just never know. Don’t forget to check your boobs."