Wichita veteran faced breast cancer head-on, and won

Summer Guerrero handled the news of her cancer the way she handled her tour in Iraq. Mission first, tears later. So when her doctor shoved a box of Kleenex toward her after telling her she had breast cancer, Guerrero shoved it back.

Instead of breaking down, she asked to talk right away with all the doctors who would be involved in her treatment.

It was just another challenge to be met head-on.

"To me, cancer does not mean death. It just means you've got one heck of a fight coming up, and the stronger you are, the better you'll survive," she said.

Guerrero was 28 when she was diagnosed.

Today she is a 34-year-old firefighter at Boeing, a mother of two, and the co-owner with her husband, Mark, of After Hours Auto Repair, 4758 S. Seneca.

Athletic and disciplined, Guerrero thrives on physical and mental challenges.

"I'm just a very strong-willed person and I'm very positive," she said. "I don't really ever see the negative."

Guerrero will see plenty of positives on Saturday at the Komen Wichita Race for the Cure. A record 9,000 people had registered to participate as of Thursday, according to the Mid-Kansas Affiliate of Susan G. Komen for the Cure. That breaks the previous record of 8,113 in 2007.

Organizers hope to register 10,000.

Guerrero plans to walk a mile at the event and reunite with some of the people who went through chemotherapy treatments with her.

"My favorite thing about the Race for the Cure is you can see so many people that have been hit or touched by somebody that has had breast cancer. The support out there is just tremendous," she said.

If anybody had a right to break down emotionally on hearing news she had breast cancer, it was Guerrero. She'd already lost both parents in the year since she'd returned from Iraq. Her father, who was homeless, had frozen to death. Her mother had committed suicide.

In Iraq, Guerrero had been in harm's way daily serving with an Army Reserve engineer detachment in 2003 and 2004. She was a firefighter who also performed security missions and delivered water, food and health supplies in areas that left her vulnerable to attack.

As the only woman in her outfit, she worked with "an amazing group of guys," she said.

Competitive by nature, she wanted to match their strength.

"It just made me work a little bit harder to put myself on the level they were," she said.

Guerrero had wanted to be police officer, but when she went to a training event with the fire department, "My heart lit up and had this great big smile from one end to the other," she said. "I didn't realize you could be that excited by a job."

Cancer treatments drained some of her strength on the job.

It all started when Guerrero found a small knot that hurt slightly. Two days later the knot had doubled in size.

By the time a biopsy was performed on it two weeks later, it was as big as a baseball.

Surgeons did a radical mastectomy on one side, and later a simple mastectomy on the other.

Guerrero isn't uncomfortable talking about it. She doesn't mind sharing her story, "if it will help somebody else see the positive, and see that the end result is good," she said.