National Reconnaissance Office Chief beats cancer

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Jonathan Whitely
  • Space Base Delta 1 Public Affairs
It was a typical autumn day in 2020 when Chief Master Sgt. Tina Timmerman, National Reconnaissance Office senior enlisted leader, noticed a small lump in her breast while doing a self-exam.

Being the hard worker and leader she is, Timmerman put the mission first and delayed getting examined until she felt her office was in a good place.

“I had a couple of mission-critical [business trips] going on; it was the holidays and it was still COVID so I was slow to react because of everything going on,” Timmerman said. “I felt, as a leader, that was what was expected of me. This was a self-imposed process. I had to put myself on hold [to] take care of our people and our mission — [taking care of] myself was last.”

It wasn’t until nearly five months later, in February, that Timmerman spoke with her doctor and requested a mammogram. From there, her providers scheduled a follow-up ultra-sound and biopsy. Timmerman said they wanted to complete all of her exams before she moved from Colorado to Virginia.

“I was trying to cram everything in for my current unit, my family, myself and be prepared for the next opportunity coming my way,” she said. “I was a little stressed, but at the time I was just trying to check every box, make sure I didn’t forget anything.”

It was just days later Timmerman was informed the small lump she felt back in autumn was real — she was diagnosed with stage two invasive ductal breast cancer.

“I was thinking that this is the worst timing ever,” she said. “I’m moving to a new job, new location, and I’m going to be geographically separated from my spouse. I was mad at myself for pushing for a mammogram but also thankful that I knew my body and knew that something was incorrect.”

After receiving her diagnosis, Timmerman went to the Breast Care Center at Ft. Belvoir, Virginia, to meet with a surgeon, oncologist, radiation specialist, mental health care-givers and a nutritionist.

Through guidance from her doctors, family and friends, Timmerman opted to receive lumpectomy surgery — removal of breast tissue used as a treatment of breast cancer, and had hoped this would kill her cancer. Unfortunately, she received a call six weeks later stating she would have to begin chemotherapy.

Timmerman did four total rounds of chemo, going in every three weeks.

“Everyone reacts to chemo differently and I had to be prepared for any situation. Each chemo round was different for my body and I was never sure exactly how I was going to feel or react after I went in.”

Timmerman said she lost hair and gained weight during the process, which are normal symptoms of the invasive therapy. After chemotherapy had ceased, Timmerman was to receive radiation therapy.

“It is not hard to lie on a table and get exposed to radiation, but it is tedious,” she said. “Everyone sees you and touches you. You have to go every day to the hospital which is draining. Your body reacts to the radiation in different ways, you can get swollen areas, radiation burns and rashes, all the while your body is still working through the chemo side effects.”

It wasn’t until about one year later that Timmerman had heard the news: she was cancer-free.

“Tina Timmerman is one of the strongest and bravest women that I know,” said Ronda Hogg, a friend of Timmerman. “I will never forget my joy and relief knowing that she had made it through the other side and was now cancer-free.”

Timmerman said hearing she was cancer-free was relieving and hadn’t quite realized the weight she was carrying on her shoulders until hearing she’d won her battle.

“Tina showed such grace when it came to her dealing with her diagnosis,” said her husband, Command Sgt. Maj. Deron Timmerman, 4th Battalion, 9th Infantry Regiment, 1st Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division senior enlisted leader. “She never wanted it to be about her. I am so thankful to her awesome team of doctors who did a great job of communicating with us and providing top-notch care. I think that, and her super positive attitude all the time, made the difference.”

Through it all, Timmerman said her husband, friends and family were there to lift her up when she hit rock bottom.

“Reach out to those you trust,” she said. “Ask all the questions and ask them again if you didn’t understand. You are the final decision maker for what happens to you. You must be your advocate and champion. Find the person to hold your hand, give you a hug and an encouraging smile when you are scared, confused, or overwhelmed. Your journey will not be like anyone else’s, but there are common things that happen during your battle and others are ready to listen and help you.”