Chief Warrant Officer 3 Vanderla Akaka, right, with nurse Mary Johnson at Tripler Army Medical Center in Honolulu. (Courtesy of CWO3 Vanderla Akaka)
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Courtesy CW3 Vanderla Akaka (Courtesy of CWO3 Vanderla Akaka)
‘Pink Power Mom’
Name: Chief Warrant Officer 3 Vanderla Akaka
Family: Son Kalai, 13. Step-daughter Puanani, 20, and step-son Pakela, 19.
Career highlights: Served as a radioman while enlisted; one of first women aboard the landing dock ship Blue Ridge in 1993; named chief petty officer in 2003; selected for chief warrant officer in 2008.
Volunteer work: The American Cancer Society, the Boys and Girls Club Hawaii, Making Strides Breast Cancer Walk, the Susan G. Komen breast cancer walk.
Vanderla Akaka was supposed to have an awesome 2008. She was selected to make warrant officer in March and had moved to San Diego.
But then the 34-year-old discovered a lump in her left breast. Within a month, she had been diagnosed with stage 2 breast cancer.
“It seemed like everything was moving so fast at that point,” Akaka told Navy Times. “I just freaking made warrant officer. This is supposed to be a great, happy time in my life. I worked all these years and now you’re telling me I’ve got cancer.”
But after a lumpectomy, four rounds of chemotherapy, radiation and complications that required a hysterectomy — she beat it.
And when it came back in August 2012 she whupped cancer one more time and had a double mastectomy.
While enduring two cancer battles could break someone, Akaka never stopped fighting or continuing her work for the Navy.
Now Akaka is a chief warrant officer three based in Hawaii and serving as a communications planner for Afloat Training Group Middle Pacific. She’s also sharing her survivor story to help raise breast cancer awareness and money for a cure. Her efforts recently earned her a new title: “Pink Power Mom.”
The Pink Power Mom program, put on by the baby product company Kids II, recognizes eight women every year for their inspirational stories about beating breast cancer. Akaka is the first member of the Armed Forces to receive the award, in its seventh year.
Mary Johnson, a nurse who cared for Akaka at Tripler Army Medical Center in Hawaii, nominated the sailor for the award because of her commitment not only to getting well, but to helping others battling the disease. Akaka plans to donate the $5,000 prize to the Making Strides Breast Cancer Walk.
Today Akaka is done with chemo and showing no signs of cancer. She is filling her time with work, family and volunteer outreach with the Boys and Girls Club, the Special Olympics and Making Strides.
She’s hoping to pin on chief warrant officer 4 in 2015, and make it to 30 years in the Navy, before retiring and starting her own breast cancer support organization.
For now though, she’s happy to serve the Navy, and glad to have her career while she works on her health.
“The Navy has basically raised me from when I as 17 until now, and they’ve still got me no matter what I’m going through,” she said.