ARLINGTON, Va. - Long before former President Barack Obama charged the country with his campaign slogan 'Yes We Can,' Sgt. 1st Class Lakeshea Drayton says the Army was preparing her for this slogan as her life motto.
'Being in the Army taught me that 'I can.' The word can't never entered my mind,' Drayton said.
With that winning attitude and her family legacy behind her, Drayton says that there was no doubt in her mind she was meant to serve her country.
'I honestly don't know what I would be doing if I wasn't in the Army. I chose to enter the Armed Forces because of my father and brother. My brother recently retired after 23 years of enlisted service with the Air Force. I chose the Army because of my father's service. He is a Vietnam veteran, drill sergeant and paratrooper. I was also a paratrooper. My father served for 31 years,' Drayton said.
In 2016, Drayton would come to lean on her life motto while fighting to return to duty as she battled a tumor that damaged her vision. While on assignment in Korea, the North Carolina native was diagnosed with a Cranial Meningioma -- a brain tumor. After five years of constant, everyday migraines, she had surgery to remove parts of the tumor. During the process of removal, it was discovered that the tumor was damaging her optical nerves that were damaged beyond repair.
'I lost 100 percent of my vision in my left eye. Today, I completely depend on my right eye for sight. In September, the tumor was slowing beginning to regrow off the residue that was left behind. I entered into Proton Therapy (a form of radiotherapy) to stop the growth at the Maryland Proton Treatment Center at the University of Maryland Medical Center in Baltimore, Md. from January 3, 2016 to February 16, 2016 and received treatment five days a week,' said Drayton.
Despite her strong faith and can do attitude, Drayton says both were tested during her recovery time at the National Capital Region Warrior Transition Battalion.
'In my entire life, I have never personally felt so out of touch and depressed as I did as a Soldier in transition at the WTB. I constantly asked myself, 'how did this happen?' 'Why me?' and what did I do to deserve this?' I blamed the military so much for not listening and I blamed the military for possibly stealing my career from me. I was a total wreck. I was humiliated and embarrassed and felt 'deformed' for some reason. I wondered did I have to wear an eyepatch for the rest of my life,' Drayton said.
'I didn't want to be around people. I couldn't look anyone directly in the eyes for fear they would see that I was blind. I literally walked with my head down. Either I would sleep for hours and hours per day, or not sleep at all. I could not look myself in the mirror and when I did, with or without the eyepatch, I cried. My life was over. How can I function with one eye? My sister, Yvonne Drayton, has helped me tremendously. She has been there as my caregiver from the moment I came out of the operating room, through recover and rehabilitation. I had countless other family members and friends that traveled domestically and internationally to care for me, yet I still wondered would I have to depend on others for the rest of my life?' she explained.
But just as she had done before when she was faced with life's challenges, Drayton remembered who was in charge of her life's destiny. The Transportation Management Coordinator says she enrolled in the Driver's Therapy Program at Walter Reed, began making appointments with Behavioral Health Specialists, declined all medication that would alter her state of mind and developed an active social life.
'I woke up one morning and said that I hold my life and career in my hands. The support was phenomenal. My entire medical team at Walter Reed was like nothing I had ever witnessed in all of my years serving. I worked with and met some of the finest Soldiers and civilians while there. They were extremely helpful. The overall process had its moments of becoming completely overwhelming and confusing.' Drayton said 'I started asking myself questions like 'Is this really how you will let this go down?' I would not allow myself to be 'labeled.' No ma'am, I got myself into the drivers therapy program and started working out within the limits of my profile, and most of all, I was beginning to accept that my life will never be the same. I realized I worked to damn hard to come this far to say goodbye simply because 'I didn't feel like Sgt 1st Class Drayton' anymore and I 'thought' Lakeshea was done,' she added.
Drayton was far from done. She is now an Active Duty Advisor to the United States Army Reserves at Fort Meade, and recently received a coin from Col. Brian Harthorn, Commander, Warrior Transition Brigade- National Capital Region, for her commitment to service and her return to duty status.
'When you are tested, you will have to give more than you think you do. During this process you will only discover your true test of self. I am the same 'Me', just modified a little!'