Veteran survives cancer with help from Wingmen

Eileen Rodriguez, McChord Field airfield manager, smiles for a photo Feb. 21, 2017, at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Wash. Rodriguez has served at McChord since 2004, and is a cancer survivor, who attributes her healing to the strong support she received from her squadron members. (U.S. Air Force photo/Senior Airman Jacob Jimenez)

Eileen Rodriguez, McChord Field airfield manager, smiles for a photo Feb. 21, 2017, at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Wash. Rodriguez has served at McChord since 2004, and is a cancer survivor, who attributes her healing to the strong support she received from her squadron members. (U.S. Air Force photo/Senior Airman Jacob Jimenez)

JOINT BASE LEWIS-MCCHORD, Wash. --

The airfield management team across the Air Force plays an integral part in ensuring aircraft operations run smoothly around the clock.

 

A critical part of that team is the airfield manager and at McChord Field, part of Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Washington, Eileen Rodriguez has been that critical member since 2004.

 

She first came to McChord as a master sergeant where she was assigned to the airfield management team. She retired in 2010 and soon after took her current position as airfield manager.

 

"I just changed my uniform,” said Rodriguez. “How I do my job hasn't changed or my relationship with my colleagues."

 

Rodriguez, known to many on McChord as “ER”, was born and raised in Hawaii and was the first in her family to serve in the U.S. military.

 

"Growing up on an Island you don't see beyond the horizon. I didn't realize how big the world is until I left,” said Rodriguez. “The Air Force really opened my eyes to our country and what service really is."

 

Since coming to McChord she has grown to love the base and the people she’s served with, said Rodriguez.

 

“It's special to me that I was part of the big joint basing process and helping to perfect it,” said Rodriguez. “I think what we have overcome is something to be proud of."

 

After being McChord for more than 10 years, Rodriguez received some news that would forever change her life.

 

“I was bordering stage four cancer,” said Rodriguez. “Cancer to me equaled death so that was pretty scary.”

 

The news of cancer shocked her, but because of her faith she found peace, said Rodriguez. 

 

“Not even an hour after soaking it in, I had an unexplainable peace,” said Rodriguez. “I know it was my faith in God that helped me.”

 

“I decided to not focus on the cancer but to go to work and focus on the fight,” Rodriguez continued. “I didn't want to mess with my daily routine. I was thinking about my task at hand and I wasn't thinking about what I was going through.”

 

With the help from her leadership and shop, Rodriguez was able to work through chemotherapy without taking time off. The days she wasn’t able to work at the office she was allowed to telework from home.

 

“Support is the key to healing,” said Rodriguez. “They really made me feel supported. When they hear someone is going through a difficult time, everyone rallies. We have a pretty special squadron.”

 

After her second treatment of chemotherapy, her hair started to fall out. This is when things got tougher psychologically, said Rodriguez.

 

“When that first clump of hair fell out is when I realized this is real,” said Rodriguez. “Having my head shaved was the roughest part.”

 

To support Rodriguez losing her hair Airmen from the air field management flight gathered together to shave their heads.

 

"I wouldn't be able to get through it without the love and support of my family and all of Team McChord,” said Rodriguez. “This solidifies my heartfelt feelings toward the military. We all have different mission sets but we all support one another.”

 

Rodriguez said the support she received wasn’t just limited to her immediate work section but that she also received weekly visits from Col. David Kumashiro, previous 62nd Airlift Wing commander, and Col. Ethan Griffin, previous 62nd AW vice commander.

 

“I don't know how they always knew when I was here at work,” said Rodriguez. “From the time they found out about my cancer until they left to other assignments, they checked on me.”

 

Summer of 2016 is when she felt she had started to feel cured, said Rodriguez.

 

“I felt it was part of my healing process to continue living and continue life. I didn't want to have a pity party,” said Rodriguez. “It is how we get there that matters and I know it's caring for and supporting people.”

 

Rodriguez attributes her successful recovery to being able to work during that time, and the support from the Air Force and her family.