Toshene Fletcher, Army veteran, wife, mother, grandmother, and friend, is a bright light. While she enjoys the quiet days of retirement and making memories with her loved ones, something else heavier weighs on her. Today, Toshene is preparing for her funeral.
Toshene was born in Brooklyn, New York and at 17-years-old, she decided to join the Army to earn money for college. At that time, a friend had joked with her saying she could not make it through basic training. Toshene wasn’t one to back down from a challenge, and with determination, she did just that and more.
What started off as a friendly wager led to a highly successful, 26-year long career in the United States Army. Toshene officially enlisted in the reserves in 1987. In 1989 she decided to go active-duty, with her first placement in Germany, a place that would change her life forever.
There, she met her husband who was also in the Army. She would also soon become best friends with her roommate. They’ve been inseparable ever since—even living a mile apart today. While stationed in Germany, Toshene’s Platoon Sergeant required all his squad to attend night school, which began her college education.
Discovering Her Potential
Wickedly smart and exceedingly determined, Toshene quickly rose through the enlisted ranks. She was even selected as Soldier of the Year and achieved the rank of Sergeant in three years. Shortly after her promotion to Sergeant, Toshene was the recipient of the Army’s competitive Green to Gold scholarship. This program selects enlisted Soldiers and pays for them to go to college.
She moved to Georgia to complete her undergraduate degree from Mercer University. But with Toshene’s determination and adventurous spirit, she concurrently completed Airborne School—jumping out of airplanes. Upon graduating, she was commissioned as a Signal Officer where she was assigned to an Aviation Battalion. There, she worked with the renowned Blackhawks, and was responsible for ensuring the ground personnel could communicate with air personnel.
Always searching for her next challenge, Toshene next applied for the Army’s Funded Legal Education Program. After being accepted into this prestigious program, she attended the University of South Carolina Law School. Afterwards, she returned to the Army as a JAG Officer (Judge Advocate Generals Corp). Toshene would remain in this position for the last 18 years of her military career.
“I loved every part of being in the military—even I think the parts that other people don’t like…it just never felt like work for me,” Toshene shared.
Impacting the Lives of Others
Toshene has always been driven to make a difference. As an officer, she enjoyed mentoring other soldiers. Her favorite assignment was as a defense attorney. She fought passionately on behalf of her clients and ensured they were treated with dignity and respect. Toshene smiled as she recalled the stories of several cases that remain close to her heart. Today, she is still close with many of those clients.
In 2018, Toshene retired from the military, but her drive didn’t stop there. Toshene was selected for her dream retirement job – teaching law at the U.S. Army Medical Center and School. Toshene loved teaching and delighted in her students’ discovery of how important knowledge of the law is to their career as Soldiers and medical professionals. She was thrilled to combine her legal experience and her leadership skills while educating Soldiers as they began their studies in Army medicine.
Facing New Hurdles
Unfortunately, Toshene’s dream was cut short less than a year later. In 2017, she started noticing unusual symptoms in her body. Her voice weakened and she couldn’t speak without getting winded. Toshene was unable to stand for long periods of time and couldn’t run or workout as much as she used to.
In February 2019, after sixteen months of grueling tests and endless appointments, Toshene visited the ALS Multidisciplinary Clinic at UT Health San Antonio. At that appointment, neurologist, Dr. Carlayne Jackson, gave her the grim diagnosis. Toshene had ALS. Since that diagnosis, so many things have changed.
Until a few years ago, Toshene was a very active person. She loved, hiking, rock climbing and running. She ran ten miles on a regular basis. However, by Christmas 2019, she could no longer run and by December 2020 she could no longer walk.
A Positive Outlook
Today, Toshene can no longer use her arms and utilizes a power wheelchair. What could normally seem like a restricting tool, she views as a blessing. “I found that the wheelchair really replaced the walking…it gave me the independence.” Toshene now relies on her husband and best friend to assist her with daily tasks. She was surprised at how shocking the loss of her arm and hand function would be:
“What was really the worst thing is losing my arms…I never thought about how much you use your arms and your hands.”
In the last year, it’s become increasingly harder for Toshene to breathe, causing her to use a ventilator. That doesn’t stop her from joyfully sharing her story with others. “I’m very thankful I still have my voice and I’m able to communicate,” she shared.
Support Along the Way
Although the last few years have been challenging, Toshene credits the ALS Texas with helping her and her family come to terms with the diagnosis. Between the ALS Texas staff and the multidisciplinary clinics, Toshene has access to the information she needs.
She is grateful for resources like the virtual Veterans group at ALS Texas as it’s given her the chance to connect with people she’d otherwise never meet. “I would say that’s what I really like about Dr. Jackson’s clinic and the people at the ALS Association of Texas. They really get to know you.”
Toshene is blessed by all the support she receives not only from ALS Texas but also her family and friends. Her best friend, who she’s known for almost 30 years, is by her side providing care. Her husband, whom she also met in the army, is holding her hand every step of the way. And their five children and three grandchildren bring Toshene joy on the toughest of days.
Comfort in the Goodbyes
Toshene is grateful that ALS doesn’t sneak up on you. She takes comfort knowing that she will be surrounded by the people she loves to say goodbye. While some dread the thought of making end of life plans, Toshene has found peace. “I have a therapist and she said, ‘Does it make you sad?’ No, it doesn’t…I’m a planner, and so it makes me happy.”
She doesn’t want a traditional funeral. Toshene plans to prepare letters for everyone who has touched her life. “They’ll get the acknowledgement that I passed and that they meant the world to me and they can remember me.” Her closest family and friends will hold a small ceremony together to honor Toshene’s memory.
Though her life will end sooner than most, Toshene feels happy with what she’s accomplished. “I don’t have a bucket list…I felt like my life was pretty full and I lived it to the fullest until I couldn’t,” she confidently shared. While Toshene still looks forward to more holidays with family, memories with friends, and travels to new places, she smiles knowing that things will be ready for her family when she is gone.
Toshene is just one of more than 1,300 Texans with ALS whose lives are cut short by this unforgiving disease. Today, there is no cure for ALS. Will you join the fight? They can’t wait. They need our help now!
Together, we can serve more Texans with ALS than ever before. Together, we can find a cure.