Team Captain Overcomes Cancer, Returns to Training
FORT LEE, Va. -- Recovering from cancer can be a tough experience and the lingering effects can impact one's work for months on end.
But Sgt. 1st Class Elizabeth Yarborough wasn't going to have any of that.
The team captain of Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Wash., was diagnosed with stage-four breast cancer during her annual mammogram in June of last year.
"I was lucky because even though it was stage four, they found it early," said Yarborough, adding that it was discovered during one of the routine exams women receive every year.
The cancer was dealt with quickly, she said. Surgery in September, radiation in October and early November, and Yarborough said her command was supportive throughout.
"When I was diagnosed, I was running the dining facility," she said. "We had to put someone else in there to take over those responsibilities because of all of my medical appointments. I had a great command who said 'take care of what you have to do, don't worry about the DFAC.' I was really appreciative of that."
For the most part, Yarborough said her cancer didn't affect her much, other than the time for medical appointments, surgery and recovery.
"I was fine -- only this little minor part of me was wrong," she said. "Through the diagnosis, I was energetic, full of energy. After surgery, I was good. Recovery time, I was fine. Near the end of the radiation, it hit me. The treatment just makes your body so weak."
After she recovered from the radiation, she was back in front of her command in November, asking for something to work on and fill her time.
"I couldn't stay home anymore -- I had to do something," she said. "I asked my command for a job to do since I couldn't go back to the dining facility. I needed something where I could go to my appointments, but would get the opportunity to train."
So her command found her a perfect spot -- a new culinary training facility at Joint Base Lewis-McChord called the Culinary Arts Building. Several other installations have already created a similar facility, and the one at JBLM will offer year-round culinary training for the installation.
Along with her new position, she would be returning as the team captain of the JBLM team for the 38th Annual Military Culinary Arts Competitive Training Event held on Fort Lee. The event concludes March 15 with an award ceremony. Yarborough was also the team captain last year, and said she was thrilled she would return to the position.
"It was a way to take my mind off things," she said. "I didn't want to miss the opportunity to train the Soldiers and to teach them everything I know for this training event."
Brushing aside her illness, Yarborough spent the rest of November looking for team members and the training started full-blown Dec. 3.
The team practiced daily. Their training included working on each of the categories they entered multiple times, studying every day and learning a lot of basic cooking techniques that would be needed at the competition.
"I gave them quizzes every day," Yarborough said. "I drilled it into their heads. This was what I knew and needed to give to them. Take it or not, they would learn it as much as they could. I can't force someone to keep it in their heads, but I just kept repeating myself over and over."
The repetitiveness paid off as the JBLM team won the Student Knowledge Bowl earlier in the competition. Individuals on the student team from each installation took a written exam, and the top four teams with the highest individual scores competed during the event. That win was Yarborough's favorite moment in the competition so far.
"That was an unforgettable moment -- I've never had a team that won," she said, adding this was her fifth time to serve as team captain. "They were the best on the written exam and when we went to the knowledge bowl -- we won that. I'm just stoked about it."
That win in the early days of the competition gave the team an edge in the Culinary Team of the Year event, and while the final scores won't be known until the award ceremony, Yarborough said she thinks her team is in the running to place in the overall standings. The team has already earned a gold medal and several silver medals, among other recognitions.
"This year, I feel better than in previous years about the event," she said. "Training time is very important coming into this event. I didn't have that training time previously. This year, I had support back home to train the team. That's what I needed to come here and do this."
Although her team knows she had breast cancer last year, Yarborough said she didn't want her team to work harder for her.
"I think they should be doing this for themselves," she said. "We trained for this. I've already told them that training and coming here and doing their best are all that I expected of them."