Team Sheppard rallies around spouse battling breast cancer

  • Published
  • By Julie Svoboda
  • 82d Training Wing

Although Jane Pettit-Castor is a military dependent, she found herself in the fight of her life shortly after arriving at Sheppard Air Force Base in May 2022. She was diagnosed with Stage 3 breast cancer just four months later. Along with top-notch medical care, she credits her fighting spirit, careful planning, and the support of fellow spouses and her wife’s command for giving her the strength to be where she is today – in remission.

Jane Pettit-Castor, whose wife of eight years, Tech. Sgt. Kasey Pettit-Castor is a military training leader with the 365th Training Squadron, originally sought medical advice after noticing a lump while her wife was stationed in Lakenheath, UK. Because she was under 35, healthy and did not have the BRCA gene mutation which indicates an increased risk for cancer, doctors advised a “wait and see” approach.

By the time the Pettit-Castor family arrived at Sheppard, the area was swollen and painful. Tech. Sgt. Pettit-Castor insisted Jane Pettit-Castor seek medical attention which led to the diagnosis.

From November 2022 until March 2023, Jane Pettit-Castor endured biweekly high-dose chemotherapy infusions. Although the treatments came with devastating side effects, she said she was never alone thanks to the connections she made by joining the Sheppard Spouses Club soon after her arrival.

“I had a lot of people to be able to lean on, versus I would guess probably the average spouse,” she said. “If you're in your first six months at a base, you only know a few people. I cannot imagine how horrible the experience would have been; had I not had those people to fall back on, whether it was driving me to and from chemo treatments to just hanging out the house and watching me because it was not very safe for me to be by myself when I'm struggling with a lot of things.”

The command at the 365th TRS allowed Tech. Sgt. Pettit-Castor to take leave as necessary, and ensured she used her full convalescent leave to care her wife after surgery as well as have time to process the impact of the cancer and treatment.

“My command team supported me in many ways,” she said. “Words of encouragement, thoughtful ‘thinking of you cards’, worked diligently to get me the caregiver time-off.  They supported me daily when Jane was sick to go check on her and bounce between work and tele-working regularly.”

Reflecting on the past year and the struggles she and her wife overcame during her illness, Jane Pettit-Castor had some advice for others who may face the same battle.

“Trust your body,” she said. “If something feels wrong, get it checked out. And if somebody tells you that it’s OK but it still feels wrong to you, get it checked out.”

Jane Pettit-Castor recommended seeking mental health care during treatment for a serious illness. She saw a behavioral health counselor regularly during treatment, and it helped her cope with the emotional trauma of a cancer diagnosis and treatment.

Finally, she emphasized the importance of financial planning for the future, which includes emergency savings and conversations with loved ones about wills. For the Pettit-Castors, knowing there was a plan in place allowed them to focus on health-related matters.

“It's all those things that we don't think that we need until we're a lot older, but I'm living proof that you need to get set up sooner rather than later,” she said.

October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month.