Owens works for cancer cure, better treatments

Published 4:54 pm Monday, May 4, 2009

Imagine you are a 25-year-old wife and the mother of an active two-year-old daughter and you receive this news: “You have cancer.”

For Marie Owens, a familiar face at BankTrust in downtown Greenville, those were the devastating words she heard from a doctor in 2002.

“I had had a molar pregnancy (a condition in which tissue that should form a placenta grows abnormally, forming a tumor that can spread beyond the womb or uterus), and my HCG (pregnancy hormone) levels just weren’t going down,” Owens said.

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Eighty percent of such pregnancies are non-cancerous. Owens was one of those rare cases that proved malignant, with cancerous tissue spreading to this non-smoker’s lungs.

“I discovered I had malignant trophoblastic cancer. All I could think of was, everyone I knew who had cancer was so deathly sick. What’s going to happen to my daughter? My child can’t see me like that,” Owens recalled.

Taking a hiatus from her job at the bank, Owens began making daily trips to Montgomery to undergo chemotherapy treatments and doctors’ visits for four grueling months.

After fearing and dreading the chemo and her body’s reaction to it, Owens said she was extremely grateful to have few side effects from the treatments, other than some blistering and the eventual loss of her hair.

“It’s funny, we were almost at the end of my chemo before it really started falling out. We shaved it all off just before the last treatment. I think it confused my daughter, Sydney, because Mama started wearing hats all the time,” she said with a smile.

By July 2002, a follow CT scan confirmed Owens was cancer-free.

But it was not the end of the cancer battle in her family.

“On the day of my last treatment, my mom said she needed to run to the doctor’s office – but what she didn’t tell me was that she had found a lump in her breast,” Owens said.

That weekend, her mother, Twinette Moore, gathered the family at her home and told them she had an appointment with a surgeon for the next day.

Moore was diagnosed with breast cancer on the eve of her daughter’s return to work.

“My mom was so very sick from the combination of chemo and radiation treatments. When she started losing her hair, I shaved her head for her. And I shared hats with her; with a lot of people, actually,” Owens said.

After eight months of treatment, Moore was also given a clean bill of health.

Since Owens’ bout with lung cancer, she has delivered a healthy boy, Tyler, in 2004, and experienced yet another molar pregnancy in 2006.

Now, as sponsorship chair for the ACS – Butler County Relay For Life and someone with first-hand knowledge of the disease, Owens wants to help as many people as she can avoid going through what her family experienced.

“We’ve got a long history of cancer in my family. My dad had prostate cancer and my grandmother fought cancer for almost 20 years,” she said.

“We want to do what we can to cure it, or at least make it where people diagnosed with cancer don’t feel like it’s an automatic death sentence. I want to see people who have to undergo treatment not get as sick as mom was.”

Owens is one of several new faces on the Relay committee since last year.

“I had some big shoes to fill. Miss Juanita (Poole) did a fantastic job and it’s a bit overwhelming at times, but I do believe in this cause – and I think we are going to have a great event next weekend,” she said with a warm smile.

The opening ceremonies for the 2009 ACS Relay For Life are set for 6:15 p.m. Friday, May 8 at the YMCA football field.