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Air Force NCO stands up to cancer, tackles Warrior Games

There’s a lot to admire during the Warrior Games. And each participating military member has a story to tell.

For Air Force Staff Sgt. Lara Ishikawa, participating in the games is something she never thought she’d do.

Staff Sgt. Lara Ishikawa, a cancer survivor, runs laps at the U.S. Air Force Academy indoor track during the Warrior Games training camp held in Colorado Springs, Colo., April 18, 2013. Ishikawa is stationed at Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland. (Air Force photo by Desiree N. Palacios).

Ishikawa found herself part of a trio of female Air Force Warrior Games athletes along with Tech. Sgt. Monica Figueroa and Master Sgt. Sherry Nel. The three women are all cancer survivors and relied on each other during the team’s selection camp at the Air Force Academy, Colorado Springs, Colo.

“Nobody expects to get cancer,” she said in an Air Force press release. “I had no family history of it. I’ve always been very healthy and active, and I tried to take care of myself. It was a shock, still a shock, but you learn to cope and move on.”

Then a diagnostic imaging technologist at Aviano Air Base, Italy, Ishikawa first felt a lump in her breast in December 2009, but her invasive mammary carcinoma wasn’t diagnosed until the following April.

At first, she didn’t want to compete in the Warrior Games because she didn’t have a combat-related injury. However, conversations with Figueroa and Nel — along with other wounded warriors — changed her mind.

“[Lara and I have] both had just about everything you can throw at us,” Nel said. “We’d been doing it individually, thinking that we were both alone. It felt so good to find out that we were not alone.”

After multiple surgeries, a double mastectomy and reconstruction, Ishikawa’s cancer is now in remission.

“I feel more energetic today than I have in the past three years,” she said.

But it wasn’t only her energy that gave her enough courage to participate in the Warrior Games.

“I’ve been pushed to my max,” she said. “I’m really sore, but I’m working muscles I haven’t worked in 15 to 20 years. And emotionally, I’ve met some incredible people.”

According to the press release, she hopes to continue on with her 10-year Air Force career, but if she’s not able to remain on duty, she said she’ll adjust.

“I’ve enjoyed the Air Force,” Ishikawa said. “The Air Force has been wonderful to me in every way. I don’t have one complaint. On the other hand, if I get out, I can start a new life, maybe go to school.”

And her main goal?

“If I’m healthy, I’m happy,” she said.

To learn more about the participants, check out the 2013 Warrior Games bios.

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