With her team of warriors and supportive family – special education teacher Mary Gowing has been kicking cancer’s butt.
“I have a team of warriors here at school, besides my family, who has fought along with me,” Gowing said. “It hits your family so hard, but that’s when the warriors step in and help you fight the good fight.”
Gowing’s initial testing was done on July 28, 2012, and on August 2, her doctor called with her diagnosis – Genetic BRCA2 breast cancer. Surgery followed on August 22 and chemotherapy treatments started shortly after.
“I was out of school for five weeks,” she said. “By the fourth chemo I begged to stop and by the sixth – I never felt terror as I did for that sixth one.”
Her five weeks of radiation stretched through March 2013 and her final reconstructive surgery was done after her daughter’s 8th grade graduation. She said just when she thought she was done, something else would happen.
The youngest diagnosis in her family, Gowing’s cancer was unexpected. She said her dad’s three sisters had it, so they thought it was paternal.
“My dad had a really hard time because he felt he gave it to me,” she said. “Your dad can tell you he loves you, but when your dad is sitting there holding you like a baby and telling you you’re going to make it and you’re so strong and I’m so sorry – you just move through it.”
And Gowing’s husband, John, and two daughters have been by her side every step of the way.
“I could not ask for a better man through the whole thing,” Gowing said. “His thing was keeping things normal – he made sure I stayed in a place where I still saw everything going on around me.”
Her youngest, AnnaMarie, was, as Gowing said, her medical girl who had no problem helping, while her oldest, Alexia, played the role of intuition knowing what her mother needed before she had to ask.
“I would say to AnnaMarie, ‘You shouldn’t be seeing or doing this’ and she would say, ‘You’re my mother,’” Gowing said. “Then I would tell Alexia ‘Thank you’ and she would say, ‘I know you needed that’ – each one would give a different thing.”
Gowing said her other family has been her work family – teachers and students.
“I never told the kids I had cancer because, after watching my family, that is a scary word,” she said. “That’s part of what kept me going was the kids. I know most people think it’s a hard job, but the rewards you get from caring for those kids – I want to make it a positive experience for not one kid, but all kids.”
Gowing has been teaching for District 11 for 17 years, and said had she taken the last school year off she might have lost herself completely. She would have chemo on Thursday and try to be back to school by Tuesday.
“Coming back to that love was just amazing,” she said.
Gowing is now 75 percent cancer-free and is taking each day as an opportunity.
“My favorite thing to do was get into the grass barefoot with my hands in there and just feel the grass and listen to the sounds around me and realize the world is good,” she said. “So many things came out of this – so many positive relationships. It was hell, it was a battle, but it was a battle I could handle because I had so many people there.”