The name “Hope” is appropriate because Lowe has every hope that the cancer that has spread from her lung to her bones can be managed.
“I’m still looking on the bright side,” said Lowe, director of the Equal Opportunity Employment Section for TDCJ’s Human Resources Division since February 2004. “I’m still hoping for the cure.”
Lowe was first diagnosed with breast cancer in May 1994 at the age of 32. Although there had been no history of cancer in her immediate family, she periodically did self-breast examinations and one day felt a lump that proved malignant.
“I found it myself, and I knew immediately that it wasn’t supposed to be there,” she said.
Lowe immediately underwent a lumpectomy at a Houston hospital and then endured four cycles of chemotherapy treatment, one cycle every three weeks. After a second surgery to remove additional cancerous tissue, Lowe underwent two more cycles of chemotherapy followed by approximately nine weeks of daily radiation treatments. For the next five years, she took a pill each day that suppressed the estrogen her cancer fed on. The drug caused cysts to grow on her ovaries. In 1998, she had to undergo a complete hysterectomy.
“You do what you have to do every day,” she said. “A lot of people say, ‘Well, I couldn’t do that.’ Sure you can. You can go through it. You can do anything to save your life.”
Like other cancer patients, Lowe said the chemotherapy was the most fatiguing part of her treatment.
“I think the best way to describe chemotherapy is that it feels like someone has stuck a vacuum cleaner above your head and sucked up all your energy,” she said. “A lack of energy was probably the biggest side effect, even more so than the nausea.”
Still, she managed to work most every day.
“I had a choice,” she said. “I could go home and think about it all day or I could come to a job I loved and stay busy. And that’s what I did.”
She also worked to support other women with the disease as a volunteer for the American Cancer Society.
“That was important to me because women need to know that cancer is not a death sentence,” she said. “I’m still here 13 years later. Thirty years ago, that wouldn’t have necessarily been the case. They’ve come so far with treatment.”
Lowe remained in remission for 10 years. Then, in early 2004, she started having difficulty breathing. Because her earlier radiation treatments had damaged her lungs, she and her husband thought her persistent cough was probably asthmatic in nature.
“I was coughing, and we just couldn’t get that to go away,” she said.
A lung specialist, however, spotted something suspicious in the lining of her left lung during an exam and discussed his findings with her surgeon. Together, they confirmed that her cancer had returned.
“They said it was breast cancer but that it had metastasized to the lung,” she said. “Crushing news.”
By August 2006, Lowe’s cancer had spread to her bones. She was first given a nuclear injection for the treatment of pain in patients whose cancer has spread to the bone. She is now taking a monthly injection of another drug that eases her pain and that doctors hope will work with the first drug to slow the progress of the cancer in her bones.
Lowe said her doctors promise to throw everything in their arsenal at her cancer in an attempt to fight the disease.
“They treat metastasized breast cancer as a chronic disease, and the doctors will tell you that,” she said. “They don’t tell you that you have a year or two years left. They tell you they don’t know.”
Lowe’s son was seven when she first got cancer. He’s now 20 and attending college. Her husband recently retired from TDCJ after more than 30 years of service.
“I think it’s harder on my family than it is on me,” she said. “Watching someone you love face a debilitating disease that may not get better is hard. But I’ve been blessed. I have a wonderful husband who is very supportive.”
Despite the spread of her cancer, Lowe looks to the future with determination and, of course, hope.
“I have a son who’s in college and I plan on seeing him graduate,” she said. “In six years, I can retire, and I plan on being around to do it. The biggest message I can give to other women is that there is hope, and that cancer is not a death sentence. Don’t ever give up. Live your life. Life is meant to be lived, so that’s what you should do with it.”