Going pink: an Airman’s fight for breast cancer awareness

Senior Airman Jordan Hebner, 86th Dental Squadron dental technician, poses with portraits of her grandmother and great-aunts at Ramstein Air Base, Germany. Hebner’s grandmother and great-aunts have been affected by breast cancer, which is the second most common cancer for women in the United States. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Joshua Magbanua)

Senior Airman Jordan Hebner, 86th Dental Squadron dental technician, poses with portraits of her grandmother and great-aunts at Ramstein Air Base, Germany. Hebner’s grandmother and great-aunts have been affected by breast cancer, which is the second most common cancer for women in the United States. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Joshua Magbanua)

Airman 1st Class Clayton Hardie, left, and Senior Airman Drake Futch, both 86th Dental Squadron dental technicians, wear pink morale shirts during a unit potluck on Ramstein Air Base, Germany, Oct. 7, 2016. The potluck was held on the first day the unit Airmen wore the morale shirts in observance of Breast Cancer Awareness Month. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Joshua Magbanua)

Airman 1st Class Clayton Hardie, left, and Senior Airman Drake Futch, both 86th Dental Squadron dental technicians, wear pink morale shirts during a unit potluck on Ramstein Air Base, Germany, Oct. 7, 2016. The potluck was held on the first day the unit Airmen wore the morale shirts in observance of Breast Cancer Awareness Month. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Joshua Magbanua)

A pink morale shirt of the 86th Medical Group is displayed in a box at Ramstein Air Base, Germany, Oct. 6, 2016. The 86th MDG is using the color pink for its morale shirts in observance of Breast Cancer Awareness Month. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Joshua Magbanua)

A pink morale shirt of the 86th Medical Group is displayed in a box at Ramstein Air Base, Germany, Oct. 6, 2016. The 86th MDG is using the color pink for its morale shirts in observance of Breast Cancer Awareness Month. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Joshua Magbanua)

Staff Sgt. Eric Castleberry, 86th Dental Squadron NCO in charge of rated personnel, assists a patient at Ramstein Air Base, Germany, Oct. 14, 2016. The 86th Medical Group is observing Breast Cancer Awareness Month by wearing pink morale shirts on Fridays in the month of October. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Joshua Magbanua)

Staff Sgt. Eric Castleberry, 86th Dental Squadron NCO in charge of rated personnel, assists a patient at Ramstein Air Base, Germany, Oct. 14, 2016. The 86th Medical Group is observing Breast Cancer Awareness Month by wearing pink morale shirts on Fridays in the month of October. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Joshua Magbanua)

RAMSTEIN AIR BASE, Germany -- “My grandmother and both of her sisters had breast cancer,” said Senior Airman Jordan Hebner, 86th Dental Squadron dental technician, recounting her story of why she joined the fight to raise breast cancer awareness. “She survived it twice, and also had seven children while battling it. They didn’t give up, and they kept fighting the fight so I could do the same thing.”

Breast cancer runs in Hebner’s family, and seeing her relatives suffering from it has affected her personally, she said. That is why she decided to join the fight against the disease, adding that she knew there is a possibility that she herself could be affected by it in the future.

“It’s just a scary thought,” Hebner said. “Breast cancer is a life-changing thing, not only for the people who have it, but their families as well.”

In the spring months of 2016, Senior Master Sgt. Crystal Jarvis, 86th DS dental superintendent, gave Hebner an idea: design pink shirts and sell them. The color pink represents the struggle against breast cancer, while the profits would be donated to the research efforts for the disease. Some of the proceeds would also go to unit events.

The shirts would be used as the 86th Medical Group’s Friday morale shirt, but would be available for sale to anyone.

“I didn’t really come up with the idea; I heard about it from somewhere else,” Jarvis said. “(Senior) Airman Hebner took that idea, ran with it, and she did a great job. I was very, very proud of her.”

Jarvis was impressed by Hebner’s initiative, saying the senior airman – who was recently selected to be a staff sergeant, showed promising leadership skills.

“(Senior) Airman Hebner is a very smart Airman,” Jarvis said. “I knew she was deserving for that staff sergeant stripe. I think that she has absolutely unlimited potential. To see her do that, it solidifies that the Air Force got this right.

Hebner cited her family, particularly those who have fought breast cancer, as the main inspiration for her to push through with the pink shirt initiative.

“They were the main reason that I wanted to do this and help raise money for it,” Hebner said. “It made me want to fight a little bit harder, and there were definitely roadblocks while doing this. I would have easily given up on this if it wasn’t for them. Trying to find a cure for this horrible disease that affects so many women, that’s my drive, Hebner said. “They are human just like us; they get over this obstacle of breast cancer, they keep fighting the fight and they keep living their lives.””

Hebner gave credit to her colleagues who helped her carry out the pink shirt initiative, saying they played a big role in supporting her cause. Her wingmen at the medical group stood by her in her fight for breast cancer awareness, she said.

“They really helped me push through this,” Hebner said. “I was coming out from downstairs and I saw everyone in their scrubs and pink shirts. Even the guys were rocking it at the front desks. We also had patients coming in that had their pink shirts.”

Jarvis cited Hebner as an example young Airmen can follow, saying her role in initiating the pink shirt project proves that junior enlisted Airmen are capable of showing good leadership.

“She showed them that it’s okay to step outside the box; it’s okay to get out of your comfort zone sometimes,” Jarvis said. “I think by doing that, she set a great example. If she can do it, why can’t they?”

Hebner said her empathy for those who struggle with the disease and the drive to raise awareness for their cause helped her to push forward.

“When I was doing this I thought about them a lot,” Hebner said. “I have never led something this big, especially at Ramstein which is such a huge base. It was a little intimidating at first because it was such a big task; seeing the end product is definitely worth it. It was my family that got me started, but it’s all the women who are affected by it that kept me going.”