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Central Washington University

CWU Marks Breast Cancer Awareness Month

In the United States, 1 in 8 women will be diagnosed with breast cancer during their lifetimes. That is among the reasons why, since 1985, October has been designated annually as Breast Cancer Awareness Month.

It’s a bittersweet occasion for CWU chemistry department office manager Lisa Stowe. In 2006, she found herself among that lamentable group. A 1993 CWU alumna, has served in the chemistry department since 1999. 

Stowe is a vocal champion for breast self-exams and patient medical self-advocacy. A bit of her survivor’s story was featured on the big screen during the 12th annual Tough Enough to Wear Pink campaign, which supports awareness of breast cancer, early detection and funding for research, at this year’s Ellensburg Rodeo.

“It’s not a harder month, per se, but it does bring up tons of memories,” Stowe said. “I’m just more aware since breast cancer is recognized nationally during October. I have an immense amount of gratitude for the strides made in diagnostics and treatment options related to it.”

Initially, during her monthly self-exam, Stowe found a small lump that she described as “the size of a pea.” Three months later, ironically enough in October, an official diagnosis was announced. It indicated Stowe had aggressive, rapidly advancing breast cancer.

“My life was forever changed by the diagnosis,” she noted. “It drove home to me the fact that life is fragile, we never know how much time we have or when it will end, so living in and valuing each moment is so important.”

A lumpectomy soon followed the diagnosis to remove the tumor and, as a precaution, for extraction of 24 additional lymph nodes. That led to six chemotherapy treatments and 35 additional therapy sessions involving radiation.

“Treatment was a long road–from surgery to completion of radiation it was nine months–so it was a great relief to be finished and start trying to find my new normal,” said Stowe. “But the time away also reinforced for me what an amazing community we have on the CWU campus. Students rallied around me and encouraged me to keep fighting. They missed me in the chemistry office, but wanted me to be well before I returned.”

Other staff on campus donated sick and vacation leave, through the university’s shared leave program, so Stowe did not miss a single paycheck.

“That kind of selfless generosity and support was so humbling and appreciated more than words can ever describe,” she continued. “How can I ever repay that?” 

She also described a poignant gesture when she received a dozen roses from former CWU President, Jerilyn S. McIntyre, upon completion of her treatment. 

“That personal connection is why I came to CWU as a student and chose to work here after graduation,” Stowe continued.

While back working on campus, she has adopted an additional lifetime mission to see cancer eradicated. Those efforts have included participation in and helping coordinate the local American Cancer Society’s annual Relay For Life fundraiser.

In addition, she is the driving force behind the annual Concert for a Cure event featuring the CWU chemistry department band: Road Fever.

“Concert for a Cure was actually the brainchild of our chemistry students,” Stowe explained. “They saw what I was going through, loved the band and wanted to find a way to make a difference.”

The $5 cover charge and all monies collected during the performance are donated to the Kittitas County-based Gretchen Weller Foundation.

“It’s a perfect fit,” Stowe said. “As a non-profit foundation, its mission is to assist financially with non-medical expenses to help lift the burden off of the cancer patient and their families.”  

Next year will mark the 12th annual concert.

“I love the legacy that is there and the fact that we keep giving back to our community in this fun way,” Stowe added. “In last year’s event alone, we collected and donated more than $8,000 to the Gretchen Weller Foundation.”

Breast cancer is not a disease confined by gender. While it’s more than 100-times less than for women, the lifetime risk for men of developing breast cancer is still about 1 in 833. Some 2,500 new cases of breast cancer among men are predicted by the American Cancer Society this year alone. In addition, male survival rates are reported to be lower than for women.

Media contact: Robert Lowery, Department of Public Affairs, 509-963-1487, Robert.Lowery@cwu.edu

Monday, October 15, 2018

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