Wilkes U.S. Homecoming 5K Drive in Memory of US Air Force Maj. Candace Adams Ismirl
WILKES-BARRE — Although she passed away in 2016 after a courageous and graceful battle with triple negative breast cancer, wife, mother, Wilkes University graduate and U.S. Air Force Major Candace Adams Ismirl continues to inspire ROTC students Wilkes and people, all over the world.
One recent Wilkes ROTC graduate, Cameron Wenk, felt compelled to do his part to share his legacy outside of higher education and on the streets of Wilkes-Barre by founding the first annual Kisses to Cancer 5K on Saturday, October 1 , timed to mark the university’s homecoming.
Wenk, 23, a native of Gettysburg, graduated last May with a commission. He currently serves his country as a second lieutenant at Joint Base San Antonio – Randolph as a drone pilot.
“I started college and AFROTC in 2017, a year after she passed away. Her ABUs (Airmen’s Combat Uniform) were hanging in the living room, and that’s where I first learned about her story,” Wenk said. “I knew from the beginning that I wanted to serve, but I wasn’t sure of my ‘why.’ I contacted her husband, Ryan Ismirl, a sophomore, when I wanted to include an article about Candace in our troop newsletter/magazine. After really learning her story, I found a cause I wanted to serve.”
Wenk explained that before he graduated and began his military career, he wanted to do something to tell Adams’ story. Working with his mentor, retired Lt. Col. Mark Custer, a 32-year Air Force veteran, Wenk was introduced to the Wilkes Veterans Council, which helped bring the idea to fruition. The path eventually led to Mary Simmons and the Wilkes University Alumni Association, who incorporated the 5K into the homecoming program.
“I’ve met Candace’s mom, dad, and brother a few times over the past few months. I filled more gaps in her life. I feel like a part of their family and that has strengthened my purpose. I know I’m making the right decision to serve,” Venk said. “Candice is one hell of an inspiration and more people need to know her story to continue to inspire.”
“I am not your victim.”
Candice Adams was born into a military family. Her father, retired Sgt. Maj. Michael A. Adams served his term, and her brother, Michael A. Adams II, also a major, is currently serving in the Air Force in Qatar.
Candace began her studies at Wilkes in 1999, graduated in 2003 with a degree in communications and was commissioned into the Air Force as a public affairs officer after graduating from ROTC.
During her years of service in Oklahoma, Alaska, and the Pentagon, Candace has received many awards and honors, such as Air Force Materiel Command Officer of the Year, Alaskan Headquarters Command (ALOM) Officer of the Year twice. , and, according to a biography written by her friend Brooke Chronister, Candace was the driving force behind her unit, which got the brigade. General Harry Dalton Award for Distinguished Achievement in Public Affairs, among other honors.
She met her future husband, Ryan Ismerl, an F-15 pilot, in 2008. She still had time in Alaska, and he went to Europe, and then to Afghanistan. While Ismerl was serving in the Middle East, Candace was known to hop on supply flights just to spend a few hours with Ryan, which became easier when she transferred to Fort Meade in Maryland. Ismerl proposed during a romantic vacation in Venice in 2010. Later that month, in October, Candice was diagnosed with triple negative breast cancer.
“This means that the cancer cells do not have receptors for the hormones estrogen or progesterone and do not make too much of the HER2 protein. Therefore, triple-negative breast cancer does not respond to hormone therapy or drugs that target the HER2 protein,” the website says.
Therefore, triple-negative breast cancer is usually more aggressive, more difficult to treat, and more likely to recur than hormone receptor-positive or HER2-positive breast cancer.
After the necessary chemotherapy in 2012, Candice was declared cancer-free. In the same year, on June 2, they got married.
Candice’s cancer returned more aggressively in 2013 and led to her medical retirement in 2015.
In November 2015, with the help of a surrogate mother, Candace saved some of her eggs before chemotherapy. In November 2015, she and Ryan welcomed twins Rafe and Ryder.
Candace died in February 2016, not from cancer, but a woman who stood her ground in the face of adversity, instead facing the disease with tenacity and love. At her burial at Arlington National Cemetery, she was honored with a missing person’s overpass. In April 2016, the Wilkes University ROTC lounge was dedicated to Candace, with her parents in attendance and her husband watching live.
Candice’s parents, Sandra and Michael, spoke fondly of their daughter, son-in-law and grandchildren. Ismirl retired from the Air Force last year and moved to Michigan. Sandra and Mike followed and live nearby. Sandra shared that they had a traditional last flight before Ismirl’s retirement. “The boys,” she said, speaking of her grandchildren, “were baptized Catholics, of course. They had St. Christopher medals that they got from us for their seventh birthday … and we asked Ryan to take them and fly them on their last flight. And my son-in-law, he said to me, “well, why?” And I said, “Because you’re going to be closest to Candace and God.” And then the boys will wear these medals around their necks.”
Her father shared stories about waiting for Candace after chemo. In particular, one day she went out to the car later than usual.
“We knew there was a young man there. There was a 21-year-old boy and his father, and it was his first day of chemistry. You could tell they were both shocked. And she (Candice) turned to the young man to tell him that everything was going to be okay. Then she turned and left, found his father and made sure he not only had her number, but mine as well. It was one of those hardest days, one of those nine-, ten-hour days in chemotherapy, and she still apologized to me afterwards (for being late),” he said.
Another day, as her mother described, after five years of hard struggle, she met a double amputee in the elevator. Candice gave up her wheelchair, instead walking on her own after a double mastectomy. The man in the elevator asked Candace what she was going through and she laughed saying, “Don’t worry sir. It’s just breasts. I’ll bring them back next year when I get married!” Instead, Candace wanted to hear the man’s story and express concern for his pregnant wife. “And every time she did it, I was in awe,” Sandra said.
When asked what it means that nearly 20 years after Candace’s graduation, students and future military personnel at Wilkes are still inspired by his daughter, Mike laughed and said, “It’s Candace.” He also shared the story of visiting Candace in Arlington and finding a check coin—a form of military status and recognition—on her stone as a sure sign of respect.
Her mother explained that Candace would write letters to her cancer. One such letter read: “You are serious, nothing to be taken lightly, and I respect your seriousness because you take a life, but I chose to minimize you because you never intended to take my … Important , so that you know that I am not your victim. I choose to celebrate life, not just live it. Love, Candace.
In keeping with military custom, Wenk explained, the race will begin at 09:00 a.m. — that’s 9 a.m. for those unfamiliar with military time — down the “main section of Wilkes University in the Ron and Ray Sims Center on South Main. From there, runners will head down through the Wilkes campus and left to the Henry Student Center on West South Street, continuing along the levee sidewalks and to the Market Street Bridge for the first mile. The path then leads to Nesbitt Park and over the North Street Bridge (Veterans Memorial), marking mile two. After that, it returns to the levee behind the courthouse and back to the Wilkes campus via East Northampton. A campus flagpole marks the third mile, where runners return to where they started.
All proceeds from the race will be split between the VALOR Clinic Foundation to give back to NEPA veterans, the Wilkes University Gold Bar, which provides funds for the development of future Air Force Officers in Detachment 752, and the Relay for Life/Cancer Foundation in Candice’s name.
Although this is a Wilkes University event, the race is open to the public and all ages. Registration is free for children five and under, $20 for children six to 12, and $30 for all other participants. All runners will receive a Major Candace Adams Ismirl short sleeve shirt and a goodie bag. Awards will be presented to the top male and female, as well as the top performer in each age group.
“If we can inspire just one person, then it will be a success,” Wenk said of the race. “The goal is to continue year after year, but it’s going to take other people who feel the same way I do about her story.”
For those who want to register, visit wilkes.edu/homecoming and click “Register”. Follow these steps until you reach the guest registration page. From there, you can proceed to register for the Kisses to Cancer 5K, as well as any other events that you may, but are not required to, register for. Students, alumni and the public are invited. Registration is open until September 28.