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    A Profile in Courage: A Former Marine Shares Her Breast Cancer Survivor Story

    A Profile in Courage: Marine Reservist Shares Her Breast Cancer Survivor Story

    Photo By Ricardo Reyes-Guevara | Former U.S. Marine Stephanie Bowens, a cancer survivor and nursing administrator,...... read more read more



    Story by James Black 

    Walter Reed National Military Medical Center

    Former U.S. Marine Stephanie Bowens stands quietly in the nerve center of Walter Reed’s Nurse Administration Office, gathering her thoughts before coordinating schedules, arranging meetings, and fostering camaraderie among her talented teammates. It’s the perfect position for a creative, energetic, and organized leader who confidently overcomes barriers that might sideline others.

    The Dreaded Cancer Diagnosis

    Early one morning in March 2022, Bowens scheduled a biopsy on the advice of her personal physician, Dr. Luzmira Torres, who initially thought Bowens' discomfort was triggered by an inflamed duct sac in her breast. But two days later, Dr. Anita Aggarwal, an oncologist at Walter Reed, asked her to come to her office – sharing the news that Bowens’ biopsy revealed cancerous cells.

    “It was shocking to get that call,” Bowens remembers. “You literally have an out of body experience that takes your breath away, suspending you in thought about what comes next?”

    Choosing Faith Over Fear

    Despite that unsettling news, Bowens made it through her workday – later calling her mother to get some support and perspective for what lay ahead. “We are going to have faith and know God is with us no matter what,” emphasized Stephanie’s mother – Chenno, an educator at St. John Fisher University. “In life we go through many different battles and there are scars from those battles; however, those scars do not define who you are.”

    Bowens opted to have a double mastectomy in April 2022 rather than risk having the cancer spread, potentially necessitating a second surgery and a new round of chemotherapy. “I found my decision liberating,” Bowens explained. “It empowered me to take control of my emotions and my body.”

    Demographically, Black women are more likely to die from breast cancer than women of any other racial or ethnic group. Experts believe that it’s partially because about one in five Black women is diagnosed with triple-negative breast cancer, more than any other racial or ethnic group, according to BreastCancer.Org.

    Bowens vividly recalls the first day she reported for blood work to begin her cancer journey. She met a patient having a bad day, and she reached out to touch his arm, signifying that he had a friend.

    Positive Thinking and Physical Activity

    “Fighting cancer is hard work, and it all starts with having a positive outlook,” Bowens emphasized. “We’re in the fight of our lives and we’ve got to channel our energy and manage our emotions to come out on the other side.”

    According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), each year in the United States more than 240,000 cases of breast cancer are diagnosed in women. Bowens is part of a small subset of women under 40 to develop cancer. Despite being weakened by chemotherapy and nausea, Bowens managed to work out several times a week – incrementally increasing her cardio workouts, which in turn increased her stamina.

    Working in a hospital environment was beneficial to Bowens, improving her mental health because she witnessed the medical teams at Walter Reed restoring many patients to good health.

    Creating a Healing Space and Fostering Community

    Perhaps the most unforeseen outcome was Bowens’ growing interest in creating content to document her cancer journey.

    “It’s amazing how therapeutic it was to create these social media videos despite my hair loss and changes in my physique” Bowens commented. Even her doctors tuned in to her video vignettes – including a wonderful portrayal of Where’s Wally. “They were creative, hilarious, funny and witty,” reminisced Bowens’ surgeon Dr. Fatima M. Khambaty, inspired by Bowens’ optimism, grace, and fortitude.

    Feeding the Body and Nourishing the Soul

    Overcoming cancer fatigue takes energy. That’s why Bowens structured a dietary plan focusing on fruits, vegetables, nuts, poultry, and fish – which oncologists believe assist the body in recovering from chemotherapy. Stephanie’s mom also prepared some of her favorite comfort foods, including air fried chicken and salmon, as well as macaroni salad.

    Bowens completed her chemotherapy in November of 2022, grateful for having come through the darkest days of her cancer journey. “The day before Thanksgiving was the last chemo day,” Chenno joyfully recalled. The next day the family gathered to sing songs of worship and praise as Stephanie rang the ceremonial bell indicating that she was cancer free.

    The Journey Continues

    Beyonce’s “You Can’t Break Me,” an anthem and call to action, remains one of Stephanie’s favorite songs - a testament to personal resolve and family commitment.

    This coming October, which coincidentally is National Breast Cancer Awareness Month, Bowens will likely undergo a surgical procedure to widen her chest cavity as a prelude to having reconstructive breast surgery.

    Chenno, Stephanie’s mom, believes her daughter is well poised to enjoy the rest of her life, mindful that she is a child of God who is wonderfully made and empowered to overcome any circumstance with faith, strength, and resilience.


    Date Taken: 09.05.2023
    Date Posted: 09.05.2023 13:20
    Story ID: 452746

    Web Views: 1,031
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