MARINE CORPS AIR STATION, Ariz. -- Since their marriage in December of 2001, Christopher and Sharon Story have encountered and overcome many hardships common to military couples.
Immediately after earning his place as a commissioned officer in the United States Marine Corps, Chris married Sharon in their hometown of Corpus Christi, Texas, only to disembark for The Basic School aboard Marine Corps Base Quantico, Va., for the next six months with minimal opportunities for the newlyweds to communicate. Chris claims his most challenging deployment was to Iraq in 2008, when he was forced to leave behind his wife and six-month-old daughter, Anna, in support of the Corps’ mission in the Middle East.
Though these road bumps have burdened Chris and Sharon’s relationship to an extent over the years, they have taken pride in prospering and persevering through the nuisances scattered across their path to happiness. Together, the couple has brought three children into the world and Chris has moved up the officer ranks to that of a major.
Nothing, however, could prepare the couple for the devastating news to come their way on Sept. 3 last year.
“I was definitely in denial,” said Sharon. “After I found the lump I kept telling myself it would go away, and I ignored it for a couple of weeks until I realized that wasn’t going to happen... So I finally went to see the doctor about it.”
The lump Sharon discovered was diagnosed as a case of stage-two invasive breast cancer; news that brought terror upon the couple.
“There was that feeling of anger and, ‘Why is this happening to me?’ I resented my body and felt kind of betrayed by myself,” said Sharon.
Overcoming the initial overwhelming bout of hysteria was the first step in the recovery process for Sharon. However miniscule it may be, the couple agrees that this internal victory was vital toward keeping their family resilient for the inevitable hardships ahead.
“I had to get to that [breaking] point to realize that yes, this is actually happening, but I just have to deal with it now,” said Sharon. “I couldn’t just curl up in a ball and let my emotions take me over anymore. I told myself I was done with all that and was ready to move on to what lies ahead.”
“We tried to mainly focus on our family because we knew that was what would get us through, and we tried to really stay thankful,” said Chris, the executive officer of Marine Aviation and Logistics Squadron 13 based out of Marine Corps Air Station Yuma, Ariz.
One of the most difficult hurdles encountered early on for the couple was to divulge the truth about Sharon’s sickness to their children.
“You don’t want to make it too scary for them – but, obviously, cancer is scary,” said Sharon. “Our oldest daughter was only five at the time and didn’t really know anything about it, so we just tried explaining to her that Mommy was going to be sick for a while, but everything was going to be okay.”
From her children Sharon would find her greatest source of strength through this ordeal.
Even though her youngest were incapable of understanding the looming circumstances, their presence alone gave Sharon the mindset of a superhero.
“They’ve been a welcomed distraction throughout all of this. I don’t have to focus on what I’m going through because I have to take the kids to school and watch them during the day,” said Sharon. “It gives me that mindset that I don’t have time to be sick.”
Sharon ventured onward toward recovery and evaluated her treatment options. After committing to an oncologist and clinic which Sharon claimed she trusted wholeheartedly, she prepared for vigorous sessions of chemotherapy to dispel the disease inside of her.
Over a six month span Sharon received 16 treatments of chemotherapy, to which she responded with resilient fortitude.
Although Sharon was required to visit the clinic frequently for blood panels to track progression and on days eight hour chemotherapy sessions, she did not become sick at all.
“They gave us all the worst case scenarios to prepare you, like, ‘You could be laid up in bed for two weeks at a time,’ and, ‘You might be too nauseous to want to eat at all,’” said Sharon. “I don’t know if it’s my age or if I have a high tolerance to my treatments, but I had very few bad side effects. It definitely went better than we expected.”
Despite this, the cancer invaded aspects of the family’s dynamics.
Battling to balance a demanding and high caliber job with the wants and needs of a family under such conditions, Chris claims his heart and mind were often justifiably with his wife even when he was in the work place. The comprehensiveness and empathy of his coworkers and military family from MALS-13 eased this dire internal struggle.
“My command was more supportive than I ever could have expected or hoped for,” said Chris emotionally. “On days of treatment they would let me know that my appointed place of duty was either taking care of my kids or being with my wife when she needed me. They were critical in our maintaining that normalcy and accommodating us in both the workplace and at home.”
Marines are often behooved to police their own and to watch out for the Marine on their left and right. These courtesies are engrained into every Marine, commissioned or enlisted, to promote the highest level of cohesion and sense of family seen in any war fighting organization worldwide.
As part of the 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing, MALS-13 promotes the Committed and Engaged Spouse (CES) program. The CES is an institution run by an active network of Marine spouses who are devoted in paying their dues to the Corps in any way possible.
CES teamed up with Sharon’s Yuma based church, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, to provide Sharon and her family with dinner on days of her treatment.
These weekly gifts to the Story household were delivered without hesitance or question and eased the grind of treatment days.
“Instead of coming home and immediately having to worry about relieving the nanny and where we were going to get food from, we got to spend that hour and a half catching up with the kids about their school day and helping them with their homework,” said Chris.
“Not only was it was nice to get that time with the kids to decompress, but the kids enjoyed the dinners as well because it was stuff that I didn’t usually make and they got to try new things,” said Sharon. “It was extremely helpful all the way around.”
Chemo treatments for Sharon are a thing of the past. Scans have optimistically revealed Sharon to possibly be cancer free, and she is expecting to receive surgery to assure the disease’s demise in the near future.
If ever there was a lesson to be learned from this ordeal, Sharon believes it is the importance of family in both its literal and figurative sense.
“We learned a lot about ourselves as a family, and just how great our friends are and how much support we actually have,” said Sharon. “Being a military family, we literally have friends and family on just about every continent of the world praying for us. To see the support we received from people we hardly knew, willingly and without question, was amazing.”