Rashe Bowie hadn’t been working at her current company very long when she and her colleagues played Two Truths and a Lie during an offsite meeting. When it was her turn, she shared her son’s name, that she’d been in pageants growing up and that she was undergoing chemotherapy.
The lie, they guessed, was the chemo part. But the lie was her son’s name.
“I’m undergoing chemo for breast cancer, and this is a wig I’m wearing,” she revealed.
“They were in total disbelief,” recalls Rashe, who was 37 years old at the time of her diagnosis.
The company’s CEO told Rashe to take time off if she needed to.
But she has yet to accept that offer. A single mom to a high school senior, Rashe never missed a day of work while undergoing 12 rounds of chemotherapy and 30 rounds of radiation.
An unexpected breast cancer diagnosis
Rashe’s breast cancer diagnosis had surprised her. She’d felt the lump in her left breast a year earlier, but assumed it was benign like a lump she’d found at age 25.
When Rashe and her son moved to Houston in the fall of 2013, the lump started growing aggressively. That’s when Rashe finally saw a doctor. A biopsy revealed breast cancer -- invasive ductal carcinoma, stage 2, grade 3.
Just a few days after her diagnosis, Rashe’s dad died from surgery complications. “It was a lot to deal with at once,” she says. “My cancer diagnosis didn’t fully register, but I was scared.”
Finding comfort at MD Anderson
After her dad’s funeral, Rashe scheduled an appointment at MD Anderson in Sugar Land, not far from where she lives and works.
She immediately trusted her medical team -- oncologist Mark Lewis, M.D.; surgical oncologist Michelle Shen, M.D., who performed her mastectomy; and plastic surgeon Victor Hassid, M.D., who implanted her expander. “I put so much faith in them, as if they were a religion,” Rashe says. “They made me so comfortable every step of the way.”
This included enabling her to work through chemo and radiation. “When we talked about my treatment plan, I knew I couldn’t quit working,” she says. “I had to provide for my son and keep life as normal as possible for him.”
Working and parenting during cancer treatment
A business development manager, Rashe travels 30 to 40 percent of the time, and she didn’t want to feel sick during those trips or miss work. She also wanted to be there for her son, who was playing on his new high school’s varsity basketball team with hopes of playing in college. This required “learning to live a balanced life,” as Rashe says – and some careful planning.
If her son had a game on Friday night, Rashe got her chemo infusion in Sugar Land on Friday morning. That way, she could rest when the fatigue hit over the weekend. Other times, she got chemo infusions at MD Anderson’s Texas Medical Center Campus on Friday night, Saturday or Sunday.
Toward the end of chemo, Rashe got a stronger cocktail of drugs. She scheduled the infusion so the fatigue wouldn’t hit until the end of her business trip. “It took a toll on my body at the end, but I was finally done,” she says.
When it came time for radiation, Rashe took the earliest appointment at MD Anderson in Sugar Land – 6 or 6:30 a.m. – so she could be at work by 8 a.m.
“It can be done. It’s all about how you look at it,” says Rashe, who credits her positive outlook to her faith and strong support network. “What I was going through with cancer is secondary to what I have at home.”
And what Rashe had at home was a son who thrived despite her diagnosis. He received a full scholarship to play basketball at Rice University.
A world of possibilities
Rashe will finally take time off for breast reconstruction in October. “I don’t want to be off for long,” she admits. “But I’m looking at it like I’m getting something back.”
For Rashe, now an empty-nester, that something is full of possibilities.
“There’s so much more I want to do personally and professionally after cancer,” she says. “I’m thinking about what I’ll do for my 40th birthday. I hope it requires a passport.”