“Cancer,” the doctor related as I sat in her examining room. Cancer? I had just returned from deployment and was eager to pursue my future. My body shuddered in the turbulence of her words. The fallout from war: I came back with cancer, and a female battle-buddy returned Stateside pregnant. Neither of our conditions was supposed to happen, but they did.
Our military duties were immediately limited – a fact not lost on other soldiers who routinely gave us grief for it. Well, at least we had each other, our status as women, and our shared history in combat to carry us through the rough roads ahead. Sadly, because of me, that didn’t happen.
As I began my cancer treatment and my friend’s pregnancy progressed, I began to feel envy. Her condition was evident, but mine was not. Some assumed weakness and frailty of me, but they knew nothing of my battle. Envy soon turned to bitterness when I realized that at the end of my buddy’s pregnancy she would have a beautiful little girl to care for, and at the end of my treatment I might die.
I drank to cope with the pain because I had lost friends from deployment and questioned why I lived. My battle-buddy and I grew apart. My bitterness separated us until she moved to Texas, and the miles in-between did the rest. Her reassignment helped me avoid the daily pain, but I never forgot the unity and common bond we once shared.
Years passed, and I began to turn outward again to meet the needs of others. The more I healed, the more I began to deal with the fall-out still existing in my life. I had abandoned my buddy. Not long ago, I reached out to her to apologize for the way I treated her and explain the dark place I was in. Tears began to roll down both of our faces as she communicated the isolation and abandonment she had felt. I was shocked to hear we both felt the same emotions although we worked not even 20 feet apart from each other. Every day was a struggle, and every day ended lonely and isolated for both of us. How could I have looked in her eyes and not recognized the same pain that was in my own?
What this taught me….
There are suffering women all around us who need our help. No matter our backgrounds, stories, successes or failures, we can come together and rewrite the future for these women who have sacrificed so much. Maybe you’re a successful businesswoman or a successful stay-at-home mom. Maybe you have been through horrible things in your life or maybe you have had a blessed life. Can I tell you that no matter what your past looks like, there are women who need you?
A year ago I became a foster mom to help families in crisis. I mistakenly thought I was going to “save” children, but our first foster child needed more care than we could provide. I felt I failed him, but my foster son taught me something significant. His biological mother and I weren’t so different. We were both human, and we both had challenges. When I was tempted to judge her for her limitations, I realized that my own life was full of weaknesses and I realized how much we needed each other. What if another sister had come alongside sooner to tell his biological mom she wasn’t alone? What if his mom received the resources she needed? Could we have prevented her kids from entering foster care in the first place?
Women veterans and their children are at risk from the unique impact of military service. We are in the position to come alongside and provide the resources necessary to keep these families intact and healthy. I fear if we are not proactive, some of our veteran women may have to relinquish their children to the foster care system, which is not ideal for anyone.
How can you help?
Women veterans are one of the fastest growing homeless populations. Over 80 percent of female veterans who are eligible to receive VA benefits are not signed up and women are falling through the cracks. These women may struggle with PTSD, military sexual trauma, unemployment, medical conditions and/or domestic violence. Final Salute, Inc. is giving dignity back to these women who served through 3 different programs: S.A.F.E., H.O.M.E., and Stand Up. Final Salute, Inc. is a hand up, not a hand out. It is a way to educate women and propel them forward to make a positive impact.
My battle-buddy and I fought different battles but shared the common need for support in our darkest hour. Oh, how I wish I could go back and rewrite our history! What I can do now, though, is prevent other women from feeling the loneliness and abandonment we both felt, and recreate the future of those who contend with the fall-out of war. Consider looking at my personal fundraising page for more information and to help.
Amanda Tallman moved to the Phoenix area two years ago with her husband Philip. They have one biological son and currently are foster parents. She is a board member for Safe Families Arizona and passionate about helping children. Amanda is a cancer survivor, military sexual trauma survivor, a runner, an advocate for homeless women veterans, an ileostomate (has an Ileostomy) and is a combat veteran herself. She currently serves in the Army Reserves, working with Soldiers and their families and is competing for Ms. Veteran America 2017.