Facing the Challenge, Overcoming the Obstacles
POSTED ON: Friday, February 3, 2023 9:01 AM by MC1 Jordyn Diomede
Midshipman Completes Chemo Treatment, Rejoins Brigade
Midshipmen at the U.S. Naval Academy are faced with a plethora of challenges throughout their four-year journey to become naval officers. From early mornings to late nights, exams, extracurricular activities and more, these future officers learn early on that time management, teamwork, and perseverance are important aspects to overcome the rigors of life at the Naval Academy and successfully prepare them for their military careers.
But there was one challenge Midshipman 1st Class (senior) Maya Weiss was not expecting to face: a cancer diagnosis.
The discovery of Hodgkin’s Lymphoma cancer came just a couple weeks shy of final exams during the spring semester of 2022. But the discovery only came after Weiss wasn’t selected for her first summer training choice of the Powered Flight Program (PFP). She instead received word that she would get her second choice, an aviation cruise. Upon receipt of her selection, she was told she would have to complete a flight physical – a physical not required for PFP.
During the physical, she was shown an x-ray of her chest that displayed a large mass, raising concerns that what was present appeared to resemble lymphatic cancer. After receiving a positron emission tomography scan and biopsy of an enlarged lymph node at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, the cancer diagnosis was confirmed.
“I had no symptoms and never suspected anything was wrong. From the beginning, everything was a shock,” said Weiss. “But getting those actual words, ‘You have cancer,’ from my doctor that day and him explaining my prognosis, I feel like they really prepared me well. Knowledge is power, and they really did give me all of the knowledge I needed about this cancer to have the confidence to stand tall in the face of a frightening diagnosis.”
In order to fight her diagnosis, she would require six months of chemotherapy that totaled 12 sessions of treatment. Immediately, she wanted to rejoin the brigade for the fall semester while still undergoing her treatment, but fate would have other plans.
“I think you could ask any midshipman how close you get with your classmates and how much they really mean to you,” she said. “Not being able to return to the yard was a disappointment. But in hindsight, it was the best thing for me, because with every round of chemo, it has a cumulative effect where you get a little more nauseous and it lasts a little longer. I wouldn’t be able to give 100% had I returned.”
Given the option to return home to California for treatment or remain at Walter Reed, Weiss made the decision to stay in Maryland throughout her fight.
“Staying at Walter Reed was the best thing, not only because of the beyond-incredible medical team, but everyone there was amazing,” she said. “Most importantly for me was the proximity to the yard. Being with my friends and mentors was the best medicine.”
One mentor, specifically, U.S. Navy Capt. Josh Sager, deputy director of the Leadership Education and Development Division at the U.S. Naval Academy, connected with Weiss because he is a cancer survivor.
“I often tell others that, despite the difficulty that comes with battling cancer and dealing with side effects, it's one of the best things that's ever happened to me,” he said. “A cancer diagnosis forces someone, along with their family, to view life through a whole new lens. This change in perspective, happening as a young adult, will change the way that Maya lives her life going forward, and that's a good thing. I also emphasized to her that while everyone's diagnosis and recovery will be different, in my case I was able to gain clearance to fly within a year of completing treatment. It's important to know that your dreams will not be derailed by a cancer diagnosis.”
Weiss found solitude in Sager’s words of encouragement and continuous support throughout her cancer journey.
“I look up to him immensely, and I would hope to be that same person – that mentor – for someone else, whether one of my peers is going through a diagnosis or one of my future Sailors has a family member who's going through something,” she said. “I'm hoping that I'm able to support them and connect them with the resources they need. Going through something like this at a pretty young age, I do feel like it will make me a better officer. I feel like I have matured and grown up beyond my years from this experience. It's also put me physically and emotionally outside of my comfort zone having to process this, which is a good thing.”
In November, a few days after her final chemo treatment, Weiss rang the bell at Walter Reed signifying her completion of chemo and a cancer-free diagnosis.
“I don't even know how to describe the feeling, because this was something I never thought I would have to go through,” she said, “and then for it to be done, it just felt surreal that chapter in my life had come and gone so quickly.”
There’s one word that comes to mind when Weiss thinks about her diagnosis and what she’s overcome over the course of the last six months: stoicism.
“One of the main aspects of stoicism is focusing on what's in your control and not concerning yourself with things that are beyond your control,” she said. “In this situation, I couldn’t control my diagnosis, and I had to get chemo, so all I could focus on was what was in my control, which was my attitude. I’m not going to cry over things that I'm not able to change.”
Sager expressed that it amazed him and his wife how Weiss would routinely do kind and caring things for them, even though she was the one facing adversity.
“Midshipman Weiss is one of the kindest, most caring midshipmen that I've met since returning to Annapolis,” said Sager. “She demonstrates levels of grit, resilience, and maturity that are above and beyond those around her. I believe that much of this was in place before she received her diagnosis, but I also have no doubt that she's also grown so much over the past several months.”
Weiss rejoined the brigade at the start of the Spring 2023 semester, but due to her treatment she will be delayed from graduating until December 2023. The one thing she gets emotional about is not being able to graduate on time with the Class of 2023.
“Being delayed is tough, but six months in a lifetime is really nothing,” she said. “I’m looking forward to being back on the yard and being immersed in midshipman life again where everyone is part of the team. I'm so excited to see everyone and to celebrate with my friends as they graduate.”
Throughout her stay at Walter Reed, she received visits from friends, professors, and mentors, further proving to her family why she wants to be in the military – the family aspect.
“It’s truly special being part of this brotherhood and sisterhood,” said Weiss.
When it comes to challenges and obstacles, midshipmen at the Naval Academy will face many that will push them to their limits, but it’s midshipmen like Weiss who prove that in the face of adversity, they can be overcome with the right attitude and a strong support system.
With aspirations to be a Navy pilot, she knows there may be waivers involved, but she’s willing to put in the effort it takes to make her dream a reality and to not let cancer win.
“Tackling cancer head on and working to put it behind her speaks volumes about her potential as a future naval officer,” said Sager. “When her recovery is complete and she looks forward to a career in the United States Navy, I will lay in traffic if it helps her to achieve her dreams of becoming a Navy pilot. I have no doubt that she will excel wherever life takes her, and I look forward to cheering for a fellow cancer fighter in the coming years.”
Category: Press Releases, Midshipman, General Interest, People