Chemical Warfare: The Battle of Bertie
Story by Coast Guard Auxiliarist Trey Clifton
It’s a battlefield that spans every corner of the globe, and almost everyone has a loved one who’s fought or died on it. Contrary to the images of Yorktown, Iwo Jima or Afghanistan conjured up at the sound of the word, this battlefield is lined with rows of chairs – this battlefield is a cancer treatment center. In a simple vinyl chair, a warrior fights her battle with neither bullet nor blade but a type of chemical warfare unleashed by a doctor’s intent on attacking the cancer growing within her. Known to her friends as “Bertie,” her name is Bertha Boyd, an administrative specialist for the Coast Guard’s Fifth District front office and, according to Chief Petty Officer Courtney Dawkins, the one who holds down the fort.
Born and raised in southern Maryland, it was 10 years ago Bertie decided she needed a change of pace. Having a sister who lives in Yorktown, Virginia, Bertie already had family in the Hampton Roads area. When a civilian position with the U.S. Coast Guard became available, she packed up and made Portsmouth, Virginia, her new home. It was there she found one of her richest blessings and faced one of her greatest trials.
Five years after moving to the area, Bertie met and fell in love with a striking gent by the name of Daniel, and in February 2010, they were married. It was the beginning of what looked to be a promising and exciting time, a new adventure in Bertie’s life. Then, only two weeks after saying “I do,” she discovered a small lump. After an appointment with her doctor and a round of diagnostic tests, the doctor confirmed her fear with four words, “you’ve got breast cancer.”
“I didn’t want to accept it at first,” said Bertie. “I was so excited I had met the man of my dreams, and we were looking forward to our life together.”
After several surgeries, a round of chemotherapy and 35 days of radiation, it appeared the cancer was gone. However, an MRI more than a year later revealed not only had the cancer returned, it spread to her liver.
“It was a whole different time than the first time,” said Bertie. In her mind, she thought this was going to be a one-time thing. “I just had to have faith in God, that He had a path and a journey for my life foreign to what I know. I thought I was done with cancer and chemotherapy.”
Throughout her journey, Bertie credited God for granting her both strength and peace, and her family for giving her the support and motivation she needed to carry on. Since her initial diagnosis, Bertie’s husband took over as a caretaker.
“He still brings me to work every day,” said Bertie. “He is such a wonderful man, and I am so blessed to have him in my life.”
Bertie’s son, Tercel, also had a large impact on her. According to her, he’s more than just a son, he’s one of her best friends, and she credits her family for fueling her will to fight, serving as her biggest cheerleaders.
“They’re what I live for, they’re what keep me going,” she said.
Every three weeks, as she sat quietly in her chair while the chemotherapy flowed through her bloodstream, it became real, that’s when it sank in, said Bertie.
“You’ll come in one week and meet someone, then when you don’t see them for a few weeks and ask about them you find out they’ve passed away,” Bertie said.
Having realized what she said, she paused in an apparent moment of reflection. “It’s so disheartening to see this disease is so widespread, and so many people are suffering from it,” she added, but she doesn’t let that stop her from being a positive influence to those around her.
“She is an important part of the Coast Guard family and the [Fifth District] front office,” said Rear Adm. Stephen Metruck, commander of the Coast Guard’s Fifth District, “Despite all she’s going through, she always brings a positive attitude. How can I have a bad day when she’s always so positive despite all she’s going through?”
While her positive and uplifting attitude is an inspiration to Metruck, he too had an impact on Bertie.
“He always takes the time to inquire about how I’m feeling after each and every treatment. It’s little things that mean a lot,” Bertie said.
Having met both triumph and tragedy, every morning Bertie wakes up is another morning she thanks God. Throughout her journey, her battle plan was, and forever will be, to take each day as it comes.
“Take it one day at a time, and trust the Lord through it all. That’s all I can do,” Bertie said.
Editors Note: This story is dedicated to Bertie’s family, her husband Daniel, son Tercel and daughter Tyiesha, a daughter-in-law Tamisha, and three grandchildren Tazman, Damion and Matthew, who have supported Bertie faithfully throughout her battle.