Column: A Gathering of Heroes

By Vern Woodward, husband of a Breast Cancer Survivor

As a former member of the elite American Special Operations community, I became accustomed to daily interaction with extraordinary people who had undergone a most intensive examination and evaluation process to identify those individuals who would seek out and address dangerous situations in the interest of American safety and security. 

I learned that one could grow casually familiar with astonishingly unique people. 

It was not until I entered the civilian world where I met another group of astonishing people. Here were people upon whom a frightening challenge was thrust without prior preparation and indoctrination. 

A visit to the doctor with its ominous and threatening diagnosis of cancer was the beginning of a dark and dangerous journey. Rather than shrink from the task, they faced into the trial along with their doctors and loved ones to battle a malevolent, dangerous, and uncaring foe. 

Their courage and endurance and fortitude served to guide them through the most trying of times. I am amazed by their true courage and find myself humbled by their spirit. 

Sharing this journey were their loved ones serving, in any way possible, to somehow shoulder some of the burden while facing those same frightening shadows. 

They often suffered by not knowing what to do and wishing they could somehow relieve their loved one’s fear or discomfort for just a few minutes only to realize that the best they could do was to be available to render what comfort they could at any time. 

They often learned that their only contribution was to stay at arms length and remain quiet while the healing process took its own time.

I never recognized how these silent supporters called upon their own courage to sustain themselves and others during these wearisome events in their lives.

As a soldier, a favorite analogy of mine is how the most valued and sought after product is not bathed in honey, rather it is thrust into the fire and upon reaching temperatures close to the melting point it is placed upon an anvil and the impurities hammered out. 

Not a single time but, numerous times the process continues until the end-state is one that is purified and refined. These heroes know the process and have come through it with a remarkable new perspective on life and love.

These survivors and supporters now unite to share their unique insight and offer hope and encouragement to others facing this challenging test. 

Along with family members, physicians, and friends they now seek out and address this dangerous situation in the interest of others who desperately need their inspiration.

Please join us at the Breast Cancer: The Numbers That Really Matter and Hereditary Breast and Ovarian Cancer Syndrome Seminar sponsored by the Los Alamos Council on Cancer and celebrate, learn, and inspire. The free community program will be Thursday, April 18. 

Dr. Eric Bernstein, oncologist with the Northern New Mexico Cancer Care at Los Alamos Medical Center and Dr. Kathryn Zerbach, with Los Alamos Surgical Associates will be presenting. 

The program will be held at the First Baptist Church, 2200 Diamond Drive beginning at 5:15 p.m. with a light supper followed at 6 p.m. with the seminar.

Dr. Eric Bernstein will present the basic epidemiology for patients with breast cancer. He will discuss the changes in breast cancer mortality relative to other cancers over time and what factors may influence the incidence and mortality in breast cancer. 

Absolute risk reduction will be explained as well as the importance of this number in making treatment decisions. The relationship between pathologic findings and risk recurrence will be reviewed along with historical data. 

Dr. Bernstein will explain the differences in chemotherapy and hormone therapy and their role in risk reduction of breast cancer. Finally, he will discuss on-line tools such as Oncotype Dx and AdjuvantOnline in making treatment decisions.

Dr. Kathryn Zerbach will explain what statistics are used to develop the risk factors for Hereditary Breast and Ovarian Cancer Syndrome (HBOC), including gene mutation. 

She will discuss the methods used for identifying individuals at risk of developing HBOC syndrome as well as the clinical features of HBOC and management options.

A question and answer session will follow both presentations so participants are able to get their individual questions answered. 

Nurses and allied health professionals will be awarded 1.75 CE contact hours.  The program is free but pre-registration is appreciated.  To register call the Los Alamos Cooperative Extension Service at 662-2656 or register on-line at by Monday, April 15. Come learn more about Breast Cancer at this free educational offering. 

If you are handicapped or disabled individual in need of special arrangements in order to participate in this program please notify contact the Los Alamos Cooperative Extension Service at 662-2656 or by April 15

For more information, contact the Los Alamos Cooperative Extension Service at 662-2656 or

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