“I was 21 years old and didn’t think I was strong enough to beat two cancers – I thought my life was over,” said SrA. Latisha Chong.
Chong, a Flight Kitchen specialist from the 628th Force Support Squadron at Joint Base Charleston – Air Base, S.C., was diagnosed with stage-three breast cancer Jan. 19, 2012. Two weeks later, the same doctor who discovered her breast cancer told her that she also had Hodgkin’s Lymphoma.
“I was all jacked up,” said Chong.
Chong had just returned from a six-month deployment to Southwest Asia, when she noticed two lumps in her breasts and immediately knew something was wrong. Her doctors diagnosed the two lumps as cancerous tumors.
“I immediately called my mom.” said Chong. “Even though it was her birthday, she needed to know the bad news.”
Chong’s mom, Darlene Vincent, originally from Trinidad, was living in Brooklyn, N.Y., when she learned the earth shattering news.
“It was heartbreaking,” said Vincent. “I knew Latisha needed my support, so I packed up and moved to Charleston.”
The next person Chong called was her supervisor, Tech. Sgt. Christian Farin, 628th FSS Flight Kitchen noncommissioned officer in charge. Chong felt Farin was someone who was always available to listen and help with her problems.
“This was the first time I’ve ever experienced an Airman coming to me with this type of news,” said Farin. “I didn’t know what to say, I really couldn’t believe it.”
Farin tried to put Chong’s mind at ease by letting her know she not only had his support, but the support of the entire squadron.
Chong was facing five months of chemotherapy followed by radiation to stop the growth of the tumors in her breasts. Hodgkin’s disease is a type of lymphoma, a cancer that starts in cells called lymphocytes which are part of the body’s immune system.
On top of it all, Chong would still have to take care of her two-year-old son, Malachi.
“Since my immune system was weak, anytime Malachi showed even the slightest signs of a cold or any other illness I would have to stay away from him,” said Chong. “The thing that kept me grounded the most was praying. You have to believe in something; that’s how I stayed positive.”
Fortunately, Chong had the support of the 628th FSS team, which ensured Malachi was enrolled in the base Child Development Center. This gave Chong a bit of time for herself and time to focus on defeating her two cancers that were still spreading throughout her body.
“Raising a child alone is hard, but raising a child while battling two cancers is overwhelming,” said Chong.
When Malachi wasn’t at the CDC, Chong’s mother would help out while Chong was going through chemotherapy and radiation.
The treatments had begun to take their toll on Chong. The chemotherapy made her constantly feel like she had the flu and the radiation caused fatigue and night sweats.
“Going through chemotherapy made me feel extremely cold,” said Chong.
“When I went out in public, even though it was summer, I had on sweats, boots, a jacket, a scarf, and on top of everything else, I wore a mask. People looked at me as if I wasn’t human.”
Wanting to understand what Chong was going through, Farin decided to spend a day with her to get a better understanding of how he could help.
“It didn’t really hit me until I saw her without hair,” said Farin. “I took leave for a day and watched Chong go through an entire session of chemotherapy. I don’t know what I would have done if I was in her shoes.”
Chong wore a wig while going through chemotherapy.
“After a while I couldn’t take it anymore,” said Chong. “Once the physical changes started to become noticeable, I wanted to stand out less in public. A wig helped.”
Besides losing her hair, Chong dealt with fluctuating weight.
“The different stages of treatment caused me to either lose or gain extreme amounts of weight,” said Chong. “I was going through a lot at such a young age.”
After five grueling months of chemotherapy, Chong had made it over the mountain and was ready for radiation followed by surgery.
“When I graduated from chemotherapy so many people from my squadron showed up, even the hospital staff was shocked,” said Chong. “They had to make room for everybody and the other patients. That’s when I realized what true wingmen are.”
It was now September and Chong was finished with radiation and prepped for surgery. Nervous and excited to be having the cancerous tumors in her breasts removed, Chong slipped into unconsciousness as the anesthesia overtook her.
“When it was time for surgery I prayed,” said Chong. “I prayed that everything would go as planned and that I would make it out safely.”
On June 19, 2012, Latisha’s doctors told her she was cancer free.
“I was … happy,” said Chong. “I started making calls, my mom was already with me, so first on the list was my supervisor.”
“Every time she called me, she told me bad news,” said Farin. “But this time I could tell in her voice it was good.”
Even though Chong was cancer free, she would still need to go through another 33 rounds of chemotherapy to ensure the cancer did not return.
Now that Chong was cancer free she wanted to know when she could go back to work.
“I was ready to get back to Services where I help people – because that’s what we do,” said Chong. “The best part about my job is the people.”
Chong is scheduled to return to work at the end of this year. Even though she is cancer free, she still has one more hurdle to overcome. She is currently going through a series of reconstructive surgeries to prepare her for her new breasts. Chong has had a total of five surgeries and is scheduled to have two more.
“When they told me they were going to remove my breast I wasn’t sad, I was excited, because now I was going to get bigger and better ones,” Chong joked.
Chong’s battle with cancer didn’t go unnoticed by the rest of her command. While she was going through chemotherapy, radiation and surgery, Tech. Sgt. Antonia Williams, 628th FSS, put together a team to run in the Charleston, S.C., Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure in honor of Chong.
“I met Latisha at the fitness center a couple weeks after arriving in Charleston,” said Williams. “She came in and everyone started talking to her. She wasn’t in uniform and I had never seen her before, so I asked her about her situation.”
“Talking to Latisha was so inspirational … she was so positive,” said Williams. “I had only known her for a few weeks, but I knew I wanted to make a difference in her life and do something special for her.”
Williams put together a team of more than 50 runners and set a goal of $1,000 in donations. The team not only met the $1,000 goal, they exceeded it by more than $700.
“I’m very happy about the run, it shows people care,” said Chong.
The team ran the race Oct. 20, 2012 and best of all Chongwalked the race with her fellow Wingmen.