Leaders Follow

Some of us, for one reason or another, want to be leaders. Whatever it is that motivates us, whether it be power, wealth, position, fame or glory, we strive to climb the ladder of success. The time, energy, and effort you invest is worth it all when you are recognized for your milestone of achievement. But then what? What next? Another goal? A different motivator? I am reminded of the great American motivational speaker Zig Ziglar’s trademark quote: “You can have everything in life that you want if you will just help enough other people get what they want.”

Over the course of my long career in the military, I have found that helping others along the road to success is the greatest achievement of all. With success often comes a platform, an opportunity to further a cause. My own personal cause is breast cancer. I choose to be an advocate beyond the call of duty for breast cancer awareness, prevention and treatment.

During my deployment to Operation Enduring Freedom/Operation Iraqi Freedom (OEF/OIF) from March 2003 to March 2004, I had the privilege of serving as a nurse at the Landstuhl Regional Medical Center (LRMC) in Germany. I provided care to wounded soldiers from the OEF/OIF battlefront as well as serving the health needs of military families in the European theater. Regardless of the day’s duty, a pink ribbon always adorned my uniform to spread the message of breast cancer awareness. As an officer in the Army, people look to me for leadership. The position requires it; the chain of command demands it.

While serving at Landstuhl, my nurse colleague, Major Shirley McKellar, and I recognized a need for a comprehensive breast cancer facility for our soldiers and their families stationed abroad. I assisted Major McKellar in establishing the first-ever breast cancer clinic at LRMC. The Landstuhl Comprehensive Breast Cancer Center proudly opened its doors during my term of deployment.

Major McKellar and I developed all the required activities for the clinic, including organizing a survivors’ luncheon and fashion show fundraiser to increase community awareness of our newly offered services. Our fashion show models were military personnel and cancer survivors/patients. Major McKellar and I also provided breast cancer screening and education seminars and organized a continuing education luncheon.

In addition to being a leader during OEF/OIF, I was also a follower. A follower is someone who recognizes the goals and achievements of others who have performed worthwhile endeavors. A follower sees merit in those same goals and adopts a similar work ethic, building upon the success of those who have gone before. By choosing to use my deployment as an opportunity to promote breast cancer advocacy, I was following in the footsteps of all those who have made a difference in the fight against this deadly disease.

Advocates Against Inequity

My military career has also allowed me to cross paths with another remarkable individual who is making a difference in that common fight. Linda Martin is a beautiful lady with a wonderful message. I met Linda through the honor of knowing her husband, SFC Craig Martin, Linda’s greatest fan. SFC Martin is one of the hardest workers and most professional soldiers at the 94th Combat Support Hospital (CSH) in Seagoville, Texas, where I am currently stationed as an Army Reserve nurse.
Linda is nationally recognized as an author, minister and Christian recording artist and she was selected as Mrs. Plus America 2005. This is a recognition designed to honor full-figured women whose accomplishments have made outstanding contributions to the community. Most important of all, Linda is an advocate for people with cancer. In 2002, she created the “Blessing Bunny,” a stuffed animal that she says brings comfort to all patients undergoing cancer treatments and hospitalizations. She actively uses her platform of visibility to speak about breast cancer.

As women of color, Linda and I have the opportunity to make an even greater impact as advocates in the fight against breast cancer, because of the racial and ethnic disparities that exist with this disease. The statistics reveal that minority women are more likely than their white counterparts to be diagnosed with breast cancer when it is in an advanced stage and are less likely to survive a bout with the disease.

African American women have an average survival rate of only five years after being diagnosed with breast cancer. Hispanic women face cultural and language barriers to screening and treatment; this may account for the fact that they have a lower incidence rate of breast cancer than white women but a higher mortality rate. These inequities are becoming increasingly critical in light of America’s rapidly changing demographics–e.g. population statistics now show that in Texas Hispanics are the majority group rather than a minority.

The first step in the fight against breast cancer disparities is cultural competence. Cultural competence is the capacity to understand, evaluate and overcome cultural barriers to achieving an acceptable standard of care. According to the National Center for Cultural Competence at Georgetown University (http://gucchd.georgetown.edu/nccc/framework.html#lc), cultural competence requires that health care organizations:

• Have a defined set of values and principles, and demonstrate behaviors, attitudes, policies and structures that enable them to work effectively cross-culturally.

• Have the capacity to:
1. Value diversity;
2. Conduct self-assessment;
3. Manage the dynamics of difference;
4. Acquire and institutionalize cultural knowledge; and
5. Adapt to diversity and the cultural contexts of the communities they serve.

• Incorporate the above in all aspects of policy making, administration, practice and service delivery, and involve systematically consumers, key stakeholders and communities.

In conclusion, as you too take your steps up the ladder of career success, look around and take a stand for someone or something other than yourself. I encourage you to join us in the fight against breast cancer. Be a follower who carries forward the work that other minority nurses have done; be a leader and blaze your own trails forward to advance the cause. The task is too large for us to accomplish as individuals, but as a team we can build upon each other’s success to truly make a difference.