MARINE CORPS AIR GROUND COMBAT CENTER TWENTYNINE PALMS, Calif. -- The petite Marine paced back and forth in the conference room before she finally sat down in a chair. As she heard the buzzing sound of the hair clippers, she hung her head low and closed her eyes.
On April 7, Master Gunnery Sgt. Cheryl L. Gillon, operations chief, Charlie Company, Marine Corps Communication-Electronics School, lost a level of comfort when she shaved her head completely, losing eight inches of her blonde hair.
Gillon, a Cleveland native, shaved her head to raise breast cancer awareness and to support her close friend, a Marine recently diagnosed with the disease and awaiting chemotherapy.
“She is way too young to have breast cancer,” said Gillon, who will don a wig to keep within Marine Corps grooming regulations. “She’s the salt of the earth, and there isn’t anything I wouldn’t do for her.”
It was in December when 40-year-old, Staff Sgt. Diane M. Durden, supply chief, Exercise Support Division, Installation and Logistics Directorate, noticed a lump in her breast during a self-exam.
“I already had scheduled a women’s health appointment, so I figured I’d bring that up at my exam,” said Durden, a Freemont, Calif., native. “It was pretty scary for me. It’s a common thing for women my age to find a lump because many times it’s not cancer. But when I found out it was cancer it went from one extreme to ‘Oh my god I’m going to die!’”
After the diagnosis, fluctuating emotions confronted Durden. She relied on support from loved ones during the emotional roller coaster.
“I was devastated. I felt really bad for her,” said Gillon. “She’s a healthy, vibrant, beautiful girl and she has this ugly thing in her.”
Many factors can influence a woman’s risk of getting breast cancer, however, Durden did not fall into any risk category and maintained a healthy lifestyle.
“It was a complete shock to me because over the past few years I’ve made changes in my life, “ said Durden, a member of the Combat Center’s powerlifting team. “I stopped drinking — ran three marathons. I consider myself healthy, and that is helping me get through this. I know I’m going to recover.”
Durden will undergo chemotherapy in upcoming weeks. Among the various side effects which come along with the chemical treatment is loss of hair. Gillon decided in order to make her friend feel more comfortable with her hair loss, she too would lose her hair.
On May 6, Gillon will race in the Komen “Race for a Cure” in Las Vegas, organized by a beneficial charity that raises money for breast cancer awareness, education, research, and support programs in the local area. To support her friend, and in order to raise money for the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation, Gillon gave away the opportunity for contributors to shave her head.
“Wow, I don’t have to be bald by myself,” said Durden, who has already undergone two surgeries related to the illness. “I don’t have a choice. By the end of the month my hair will fall out. It’s either take medication and lose my hair or not take medication and let the cancer spread. Here she is choosing to lose all of her hair. That is an amazing sacrifice for anybody.”
“I didn’t do it to send a message,” said Gillon. “I did it for her, for empathy. And yes, I did it to raise awareness.”
Durden said she has her good and bad days. For the most part she tries to think positively with the help from her support system of family and friends. By joining forces with loved ones, Durden is determined to weather the changes together.