By Whitney Delbridge Nichels, Army Warrior Care and Transition
ARLINGTON, Va. -- In the Army, you train to overcome challenges and adversity to complete your mission. But no amount of training can prepare you for certain personal hardships. That was the case for Army Maj. Yazmin Feliciano, whose 20-year career is rooted in triumph over fear.
“My father served in Vietnam and he didn’t like to talk about it,” she said. “So I was fearful at first, but I knew I wanted to serve my country and I was looking for a new adventure.”
Throughout her decorated career, the Puerto Rico native faced and overcame many obstacles, but none would prepare her for the heartbreak she endured in 2012 when her younger sister was diagnosed with breast cancer at age 27.
“I saw everything that she went through with her treatment, and my sister smiled through all of it. She was just humble, sweet and kind to everyone through everything,” she said.
It was that experience that made Feliciano more aware of her own health. In February of last year, her vigilance led to a discovery that would change her life forever; a lump in her own breast.
“I know what fibroids feel like, but this was different. I knew it wasn’t normal,” she said.
When the results of her mammogram came back positive for breast cancer, Feliciano’s life began moving at lightning speed.
“I met my whole team -- the surgeon, the nutritionist, a social worker, oncologists,” she said. “[The timeline] from diagnosis to bilateral mastectomy was 21 days.”
When doctors removed both of her breasts, they told her that there was no evidence of disease anywhere else in her body. She could finally breathe a sigh of relief before beginning her long road to recovery.
She was placed in the Warrior Transition Battalion at Fort Belvoir, Virginia, where she says cadre and staff have been very supportive.
“It’s been a good experience. They’ve been so compassionate and empathetic,” Feliciano said.
But her biggest source of support came in a very small package -- her five year old daughter, Arianna.
“She was a godsend,” Feliciano said. “There were days where all I could do was take my medications and lay in bed. She was really gentle and she helped me however she could.”
Within a few months, she was healing -- even finding herself able to run a half marathon. But Feliciano was unable to put the word “cancer” behind her for good.
Her younger sister -- whose health declined throughout 2017 -- passed away that November, leaving behind three children. Feliciano says the devastating loss cast a shadow on her own recovery.
“I’m happy that she’s no longer suffering,” she said. “Having to say goodbye was very difficult, but I try to take it one day at a time. If I allow myself to be consumed with the grief, it impacts my own recovery. It’s hard to separate her situation and my situation, so I have that inherent fear. But watching her made me a better fighter.”
Despite her sorrow, Feliciano continues to stand strong, knowing her sister’s spirit is still with her.
As she prepares for another surgery in the fall, Feliciano hopes that her perseverance can offer hope to others fighting the same battle.
“Enjoy the small victories, even if that’s just getting out of bed,” she said. “When you’re fighting for your life, you deserve those moments. Rejoice in them and use them as motivation.”