‘Nicki’ helps raise cancer awareness
Spc. Hannah Norris, STB, 2nd ABCT, right, signs the Guardians of the Ribbon Inc. Wichita Area Chapter of the Pink Heals Tour truck Oct. 5 that was at Artillery Parade Field for FADF. Norris is a two-time skin cancer survivor and both of her grandmothers had breast cancer. Photo by: Flavia Hulsey, POST.
Story by: Flavia Hulsey and Jessica Healey, 1ST INF. DIV. POST
A color not usually associated with fall was prominent Oct. 5 on the west side of Artillery Parade Field: Pink – pink fire trucks, pink T-shirts and even pink eyeliner.
Skin cancer survivor Spc. Hannah Norris, Special Troops Battalion, 2nd Armored Brigade Combat Team, 1st Infantry Division, was sporting pink eyeliner and accessories, as she visited the Fall Apple Day Festival. There, she was among hundreds who signed a pink fire truck, as part of the Guardians of the Ribbon Inc. Wichita Area Chapter of the Pink Heals Tour, an organization dedicated to the support of women across the country by wearing their color – pink – and supporting all types of cancer relief efforts.
"Today, that's me signing for both of my skin cancers – and both of my grandmas who had breast cancer," Norris said. "It's a Family thing. I wanted to sign for that."
Norris' maternal grandmother died cancer free, but from complications with treatment. Her paternal grandmother, who is still alive today, had a double mastectomy in her early 40s from breast cancer.
But Norris' story of cancer survival is perhaps more surprising. At the age of 28, the Soldier has fought and beaten skin cancer twice.
"I had malignant melanoma at the age of 20," she said. "And then, I was a week away from being five years cancer free, when we were in Iraq for Operation New Dawn (in May 2011), and I went and had a skin check and had some biopsies done, and found out that I had squamous cell carcinoma, which is the second worst form."
Norris was medically evacuated to Germany to have the cancer excised.
"You learn to live everyday to its fullest because you never know – you never know what could happen," she said. "It makes me enjoy the smaller things in life that people don't think about. I can't go out on the lake and go swimming all weekend or be out in the sun all day.
"People don't think of skin cancer like other cancers, and it is actually a lot worse because most people don't realize they have it until it is too late."
Norris was lucky, she said, she caught both of her cancers at Stage 1.
Now in remission, Norris said she is in an "ongoing battle" to stay cancer free and to do her duty as a Soldier.
"I wouldn't trade (serving) for anything in the world," she said. "You do what you need to do. It's our job. That's what we do."
And with aspirations of one day being a motivational speaker and telling her story, she said she likes to remind people that cancer takes many forms in many people.
"People have a misconception that cancer is for older people … It's not about age. It can happen to anybody," Norris said.
The Guardians of the Ribbon Inc. has a similar message and a mission to better women as a whole in whatever form of cancer they battle. Although their truck may be pink, Richard Janne, president and founder, Wichita Area Chapter, was quick to point out the organization supports women fighting all cancers, not just breast cancer.
"Pink is a color, not a disease," Janne said, adding the color pink was chosen because it is the international color for women.
The organization takes its fire truck, named Nicki, across communities to help raise awareness about cancer and help others raise funds for cancer research. They want to show how others can raise those funds to benefit their local community, specifically, Janne said, by either donating directly to local hospitals and cancer centers or doing things to support patients outside of a treatment room, like hiring lawn crews, helping with groceries or providing child care.
The organization aims to help support women fighting against cancer in any way, not just through treatments, Janne said.
Also sporting pink to show their support for cancer awareness were local Fort Riley Fire and Emergency Services personnel. For the third year in a row, firefighters will wear specially designed pink T-shirts in October to support breast cancer awareness. The firefighters wore them at the festival.
Stanley Withers, firefighter, Station 2, Main Post, is the designer of the T-shirts.
"We basically wear them as an awareness-type of T-Shirt," he said. "The First year I did it, I just mentioned it in passing. It got bigger than I expected."
Now, Withers said, he ordered more than 300 shirts this year, only 60 of which were for FES. He credits their friends and colleagues in other directorates around Fort Riley for supporting the effort.
"My mom was a breast cancer survivor, and I lost my father to (lung) cancer," he said, adding this is a way to remember them.
And for the foreseeable future, Withers said he plans to continue to make the pink T-shirts.