Alana Lorraine is a pre-survivor. She found out she was positive for a mutation in the BRCA1 gene, which increases her risk of breast and ovarian cancer. At age 20, she decided to have a bilateral prophylactic mastectomy with breast reconstruction. Her passion for life is as large as her passion for helping others: She joined the U.S. Army as a Combat Engineer and is in Fire Academy to become a volunteer firefighter. But her compassion doesn’t stop with other humans; Alana has also volunteered at a wildlife rehabilitation center and the Philadelphia Zoo. Her bravery and kindness inspire us to care for classmates, koalas and everyone in between.
College: Ursinus College
Majors: Environmental Studies with a Biology minor
Expected Graduation: Spring 2018
What are you most passionate about?
I am most passionate about helping others from all walks of life.
What has been your greatest achievement in life?
My greatest achievement in life is making the hard decision of having a prophylactic bilateral mastectomy at only 20 years old.
Why did you want to join the army and become a volunteer firefighter?
My desire to join the army originated when I was only a junior in high school. I didn’t think college was for me, so I enlisted in the army as a 13M (High Mobility Artillery Rocket System Crew Member) as active duty and planned to go off to Fort Jackson, South Carolina a month after graduating high school.
After heading to Florida for Festival (a huge field hockey tournament), I was contacted by numerous college field hockey coaches. After a lot of thinking, I realized that I really loved playing and wanted continue that for years to come. So I got out of my army contract and went off to college at Ursinus to play. After breaking my nose and sustaining a bad concussion only two weeks into the season, I was told that I could no longer play for the sake of my health. I then considered dropping out after that semester, after feeling out of place at school, and reenlisting in the army as active duty.
I then found a group of friends I really enjoyed my spring semester of freshman year and later joined Tri Sigma Sorority the following semester. I decided to stay. However, every day, I felt as if I had let my country down. I was paying more and more attention to everything going on overseas and felt I had an obligation to make a difference and help this country I love so much. I knew I didn’t want to join, though, unless I had a combat job. At the time, they were still all closed to females. In August 2015, they finally opened their first combat job to women and I received a phone call from my recruiter saying so. I told him I would see him at MEPS in a few days to re-enlist as Army Reserves and would be taking the following semester off to go to basic training and job training in Fort Leonard Wood, MO.
I have always admired the work that our firefighters do for the community and always had a desire to join. I had a few friends from home in Syracuse, NY that were firemen, but never really took the time to ask them how they got there. During my junior year at Ursinus College, I met someone that was also a student and a fireman at the firehouse right next to my school.
I told him I wanted to be a firefighter and asked him what I would have to do to become one. After he wrote down everything I needed to know to become one, I applied to the fire company, and then went off to fire academy the month after being accepted. I wanted to be a volunteer firefighter, because I felt as if I wasn’t doing enough to give back just by being in the army. I wanted to do more on a community level as well as national, and I wanted to help those around me in whatever way possible.
What did you learn about yourself after you found out you were BRCA1 positive?
After I found out that I was BRCA1 positive, I learned that I didn’t want to live my life in fear every day wondering, “Has the cancer developed yet?” or discovering that it had after it being too far along and being told I only have so long to live. I didn’t want to live a life like that knowing that I had the option to eliminate the highest risk by partaking in surgery. So I decided within a week of being told I was BRCA1 positive that I wanted to go forward with the prophylactic bilateral mastectomy.
Why do you enjoy volunteering with wildlife?
Wildlife and nature have always amazed me. Ever since I was a child, I have always loved anything outdoors and especially had a passion for animals. I dreamt when I was young of becoming a veterinarian when I got older. Now that I am older I realized that being a veterinarian isn’t the path I want to take, but I do still have that love to help animals.
I have always been so aggravated when I see animals hurt and people mistreating them. My ultimate goal soon after graduating college is to work as a conservation officer to enforce laws related to fishing, poaching, outdoor recreation and environmental infractions.
What are you goals for the next five years?
My goals for the next five years are to get myself in the best shape possible and advance in the army reserves, as well as to ensure my physical fitness is as great as it can be before entering the state training program to become a conservation officer. I may apply to police academy after graduation and apply to be a cop for a few years in order to get prior law enforcement experience before applying to be a conservation officer.
What inspires you to be so brave and strong?
When people tell me I am brave and strong I really am flattered and appreciate the compliments a lot. However, I don’t consider myself brave or strong. I’m just doing what I enjoy and helping others, not just humans but all walks of life. I try every day to push myself to be the best I can possibly be and when given an opportunity, I like to run with it. I hope that one day something I do can partially make the world a better place than what it was when I arrived in it.
What is your life philosophy?
My life philosophy is to leave the world a better place than I found it by living every single day like it was my last. If I died today, would I be satisfied?