Each year in the U.S., over 250,000 people are diagnosed with breast cancer, and more than 42,000 lose their lives from what the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says is the second most common cancer among women.
It’s been a scary year for Baltimore/Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport (BWI) Federal Security Director Andrea R. Mishoe, who was diagnosed with breast cancer in late 2019. But through extensive chemotherapy treatments, surgery and love and support from her TSA family across the country, Mishoe today is cancer-free.
“Learning you have cancer is a life-changing event,” said Mishoe. “It is scary, painful and both physically and emotionally demanding. I contemplated how I would begin sharing my cancer diagnosis. How do I tell my immediate family members, close friends, coworkers, employees, leadership, and more importantly, how long do I wait?”
Her breast cancer was invasive and very aggressive, but fortunately, doctors caught it in the early stages.
“Revealing such a personal and vulnerable part of my life was hard,” Mishoe recalled. “As the changes in my physical appearance became more and more noticeable to me, I began to share with my team, individually and in group settings. The positive energy and affirmations I received were phenomenal. I was more inspired and more motivated in overcoming my ordeal.”
During one of BWI’s last new employee orientations before the COVID-19 pandemic, Mishoe built up the courage to share her story and took off her beanie cap to show her “shiny bald head,” as she described it.
Less than a year before her diagnosis, Mishoe’s mother passed away and her aunt died soon after that, making it especially tough to tell her family about her own situation. Another huge challenge was understanding the diagnosis, prognosis, survival rate and treatment plan, and then dealing with the extreme side effects.
“As much as I tried to prepare myself for the anticipated side effects, the harsh chemotherapy wreaked havoc on my body from head to toe,” she said. “Additionally, each recovery period after the chemotherapy sessions became more and more difficult. … At times, I wasn’t sure how much more I or my body could take. My emotions during this battle ranged from disbelief and sadness at the thought my young grandchildren may not remember me. During the most painful and difficult times, I called on my Lord and Savior.”
Mishoe was forced to miss 14 weeks of work, including eight straight weeks to recuperate after surgery. During her intense battle, she received tremendous support from her daughter, son-in-law, grandchildren, siblings, nephew, neighbors, church family, the airport authority, federal partners and her TSA family.
“During my last day of work (before surgery in May), my local leadership team surprised me with cards, words of encouragement and comfort items to help me during my recovery,” Mishoe noted. “Later in the afternoon, I received additional support locally and from across the country. During our Women Executives (WE)@TSA session, I was featured in the first WE@TSA Career Progression video, which showcased me and three other extraordinary TSA executives and our amazing journey from being on the TSA frontline to becoming a TSA executive. I was provided an opportunity to address the group and decided to appear on the video via WebEx. I shared my story with hundreds of TSA employees all over the country. Many saw me on video and remember me wearing an afro or years earlier when I wore locs, so they were surprised seeing me with my bald head, and by that time, I was wearing it proudly. I began receiving chat messages, emails, text messages and telephone calls of support and love.”
The BWI team recorded two extraordinary videos featuring employees encouraging Mishoe through messages, posters and signs. The canine team wore pink T-shirts while walking proudly through the airport carrying posters and signs.
The local team wasn’t the only one to show their support. Working closely with WE@TSA and WE@FAMS, Bob Hope Airport (Burbank, California) Assistant Federal Security Director (FSD) Julie Comeau organized a huge effort to support Mishoe through a website called kudoboard where TSA employees from across the country sent videos and encouraging posts to stand with Mishoe during her battle.
“It was amazing and extremely emotional,” Mishoe said. “I was filled with joy and happy tears. The creative videos, songs, words of encouragement, posters, love and kindness were incredible, beautiful and humorous. I was also extremely humbled by so many who shared their amazing journeys and vulnerable stories that soothed my soul, which was exactly what I needed.”
Burbank FSD Anita Minaei had a large poster made from the kudoboard with special messages from across the country. Mishoe said, “I look at it every day, and it’s a constant reminder that I am not in this alone.”
Mishoe shared this response to those who supported her through the online kudoboard:
“Your incredible kindness and numerous positive messages provided me with insurmountable courage, joy and happiness during this difficult time. Thank you for all of your thoughts, prayers and heartfelt messages and videos, which have significantly assisted me with remaining optimistic and strong throughout the healing process. Through your kind gestures, you have not only helped me with my healing process, but others who continue to fight the good fight against many debilitating diseases, including cancer. These are the times when I am so proud to be part of such an amazing organization where we can come together as ONE TEAM, ONE TSA!”
Today, Mishoe is excited to share the news that she is a breast cancer survivor. However, she is still undergoing chemotherapy for another several months to reduce the chance of recurrence.
On top of all of that, she is the vice chair of TSA’s newly created Inclusion Action Committee. Mishoe said she is committed to directly engaging employees to ensure TSA is a fair and equitable organization built on trusted and trusting relationships between leadership and employees, all based on mutual respect and increased communication.
“At TSA, people are our most valuable asset,” said Mishoe, “and we are strongly committed to fostering a diverse and inclusive workplace.”
She offers special thanks to her Deputy FSD Ronald Juhl and Acting Assistant Administrator (Domestic Aviation Operations) Susan Tashiro, saying, “Their unwavering support has been extremely important and allowed me to truly focus on my health.”
Mishoe also has a special message for all of us.
“COVID-19 has reminded me how susceptible and fragile our health is and how easily it can be compromised. It is paramount that we all continue to follow CDC guidelines so we protect the precious health of others and ourselves. One in eight women in the U.S. will be diagnosed with breast cancer in her lifetime, and breast cancer remains the most common cancer for American women with the exception of skin cancers. Early detection/diagnosis is critical to survival. Please do your monthly self-exams and schedule your mammography, and if possible request a 3D mammography. My breast cancer was detected before a mass or lump was formed and was only detected by having 3D mammography.
“Sharing my personal story/journey and being so vulnerable isn’t easy. However, if my story resonates with anyone and reminds you to get your yearly exams, and encourages your sisters, mothers, daughters, nieces, aunts, girlfriends, partners, cousins, fathers, brothers, husbands, nephews, boyfriends, or significant other, then my heart is joyous. Love and heartfelt thanks to all of the cancer survivors, those who are still fighting and to all of the caregivers. I love and adore you!”