Linda Tompkins Cancer Surviver Spends the Holidays in Iraq
By U.S. Army Capt. Frank Myers
Gulf Region Division, US Army Corps of Engineers
BAGHDAD, Iraq, Jan. 3, 2005 - Leaving Portland in early August to serve as a civilian in Baghdad, Iraq was a sacrifice for Linda Tompkins in a number of ways. Besides her absence from friends and family during the holidays, she also gave up her five-year streak of raising money for breast cancer research as a participant in the Portland to Coast charity walk.
[caption id="attachment_3159" align="alignleft" width="154"] Linda Tompkins left Portland, Oregon in early August to serve as a civilian in Baghdad, Iraq. U.S. Army photo[/caption]
"I've loved being involved in raising awareness and money for breast cancer, but as important as that has been to me, coming [to Baghdad] has been even more important. I really know we're making a difference in the lives of the Iraqi people. The Corps[of Engineers] is building schools and roads and power plants. We're building the whole infrastructure of a new [democracy]."
For the past five years Linda served as a walker and a coordinator for "Christine's Dream Team," a team of twenty eight walkers who all were breast cancer survivors."I've loved being involved in raising awareness and money for breast cancer, but as important as that has been to me, coming [to Baghdad] has been even more important. I really know we're making a difference in the lives of the Iraqi people. The Corps[of Engineers] is building schools and roads and power plants. We're building the whole infrastructure of a new [democracy]."
Eight years ago, Linda discovered she had breast cancer when her doctor called her at her office. She cried the entire twenty-five mile trip to her Portland home, sure she was going to die.
When she arrived home her husband Jim looked down from repairing a roof to see Linda standing in the back yard with tears streaming down her face. He could hear her sobbing and he knew then the mammogram result.
Only six years into their marriage, the couple faced a life or death obstacle, but they faced it together.
"Jim was unbelievably supportive. Would you believe, no matter the sacrifice, he went with me to every single doctor's appointment."
Only a month after her doctor called her with the disturbing news, she went into surgery for a double mastectomy with tram-flap reconstruction. The operation was a complete success. She has had no further signs of cancer.
"I only got the initial exam because my sister had just had her own breast cancer surgery, but I was five years younger and never thought I would get cancer."
"I changed a lot from the experience," Linda says. "Before my breast cancer I was a real wallflower, very shy. After this, I feel free."
Meeting Linda now, you would never know she was once a wall flower. She is a gregarious outgoing red head, but to meet her now, you would have to fly half-way around the world - to a war zone.
"I went to work for the Army Corps of Engineers in 1999. Until coming here [to Baghdad, Iraq] I worked in the Portland District at the Hydroelectric Design Center."
"I started working on the paperwork last summer knowing that the Army needed volunteers to help rebuild Iraq. It took me three months of making arrangements, but last August I flew into this great adventure."
One person glad she is here is her supervisor, in the Real Estate Department, Ann Volz.
"Linda brings an energy and an enthusiasm for our work that really helps. She is aggressive and speaks her mind. She has had to be a quick learner as she has taken on a lot of work outside her specialty. She fills in our gaps and keeps the office together while we conduct our critical mission."
You won't get any argument from the Division Commanding General Thomas Bostick, "Linda works in our Real Estate department helping fulfill a crucial mission. As many construction projects as we have started, we try to ensure every lease of private property is at a fair market value. The Real Estate office works throughout the whole country of Iraq doing this."
When asked about the hardest part of being here, Linda said, "It is hard being here, but [the hardest part is] not the scary rockets or mortars or car bombs. I just spent Christmas without my family and I have two little girls at home that miss their grandmother terribly."
Including Thanksgiving, and with New Year looming, Linda faces her third major holiday away from her family. These are holidays that she didn't have to be in Iraq. Originally, Linda was supposed to go home in time for Christmas. Her original volunteer tour was only for four months.
"But once I got here and got to know some of the local Iraqis, I could see how much our work meant here. That's why I volunteered to stay two more months." Linda's six months in Iraq ends in January with her having missed the cancer walk and the holidays. She feels fulfilled because she feels her priorities are straight.
Linda advocates regular self-exams and early mammograms. She knows the earlier breast cancer is discovered, the better chance of survival a person has.
"If I hadn't had my breast cancer, I would never have had the inner strength to come to this war. I know I am a stronger person for what I have survived. Now I am able to use that strength to help in this struggle. I have so much to be thankful for."