Photo by Doug Cook.
Originally Published: October 9, 2016 10:20 a.m.
PRESCOTT – After undergoing a routine annual mammogram in the summer of 2013, Shellie Bowman from Prescott learned discouraging news.
Doctors had diagnosed her with Stage 1 breast cancer. And yet, thankfully, they discovered the cancer before it could spread beyond her lymph nodes.
Bowman, who’s in her early 50s and served as Prescott High’s varsity volleyball coach from 2012-15, soon underwent a lumpectomy and began chemotherapy that August. She endured six weeks of radiation during the 2013 volleyball season and concluded her treatment in mid-January 2014.
Today, some three years later, Bowman remains in remission. She works as a business manager at Prescott Smile Care dentistry for her husband, dentist Curt Bowman, and her daughter, dentist Tori Balbos, in the Crossings.
“My first check-up in May , they [doctors] said everything was great, and so I’ve been going pretty much every six months since then,” Shellie said in September. “And so everything’s so far, so good. A big relief.”
Despite her weakened state late in 2013, Shellie kept coaching for the sake of the girls in the program. Her assistant coaches mentored the team when she wasn’t available for matches.
Married with two grown children, including son Michael Bowman, Shellie said she pulled through with the support of her family, friends, her players and their families, and Prescott High administrators.
Former Prescott High setter Raphael Temple, a sophomore in 2013, said in conversation that November how much she respected her former coach.
“Considering what Shellie went through during the season, it was amazing,” Temple said. “She showed up to every single practice and every single game that she could. And she always kept supporting us and encouraging us to do better. She had awesome support, and she’s just a genuine, kind person all around.”
Bowman says women should have annual mammograms and conduct routine self-checks.
Initially, doctors told Bowman that she would need only a lumpectomy. But when they found cancer in her lymph nodes, she underwent chemo and radiation therapy. Bowman received 36 radiation treatments, visiting doctors in Phoenix five times per week. Surgeons removed six lymph nodes, one of which had cancer.
“The toughest thing is getting diagnosed, obviously, and then telling your family is huge,” Shellie said. “You’re trying to stay up because it changes their life, too.”
Players’ parents brought dinner to Shellie and Curt two nights a week during her treatment. Players hugged and prayed for Shellie. They made headwear and wrote encouraging notes for her during her chemo.
“One night I got off the bus [for an away volleyball match] and they handed me a bag,” Shellie said. “They were like, ‘Hey coach, this is for you.’ ”
Bowman’s players had filled the bag with handmade bandannas and handwritten letters. Each letter had a different emotion written on the envelope.
“ ‘When you’re feeling sad, open this one.’ ‘When you feel lonely, open this one.’ ‘When you’re happy, open this one,’ ” she said. “And I read them over and over again.”
Bowman will forever remember the people who helped her when she was ill. To give back, she supports others who suffer from cancer as well as their friends.
“A lot of times I will give them my cellphone number, and I just keep that kind of open [for them to call],” Shellie said. “Several of them have [contacted me] and it’s been really helpful to me to kind of just talk through what I went through and help them stay positive. There’s a lot of us out there that have gone through it.”
Following her diagnosis, Bowman educated herself about cancer and the various treatment options available to her. She recommends that women who are diagnosed with breast cancer decide on a specific treatment and never look back in regret.
“Just stay as positive as you can,” she added.
October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month. This month marks the third anniversary of Bowman’s remission. She has happily moved on with her life.
For example, Bowman and former Badgers varsity volleyball assistant KC Rader, a close personal friend of Bowman’s for the past 18 years, still play city recreation league volleyball and travel together with their husbands every April.
“I try to stay active, and I’m working out with a personal trainer,” Bowman added. “He’s really helped me a ton in trying to eat better, and just take good care of myself.”