Photo by Zach Rehnstrom.
Col. Theresa Lewis, the Winn Army Community Hospital deputy commander for nursing works out with Terrence Sheppard, a personal physical fitness training at Jordan Fitness Center on Fort Stewart. Lewis, a cancer survivor, pushes herself to fit and ready to fight — mind, body and spirit.
Family, friends, resiliency helps fight for life
A cancer survivor, Col. Theresa Lewis, the Deputy Commander for Nursing at Winn Army Community Hospital understands the weariness associated with protracted battle; but wanted to share her strength, knowledge and experience to help others.
Lewis, a native of Lumberton, North Carolina, began her military career focused on learning and self-improvement. She joined the Army in 1994 for the educational benefits to be a Combat Medic and Laboratory Technician.
“I actually started my career here at Winn Army Community Hospital,” Lewis said.
She made sergeant, and was later commissioned. As a registered nurse she continued to push herself. She earned a master of science in nursing and a master in health administration; and was eventually board certified as a nurse executive.
But then her educational journey altered course.
She said it happened on a normal day, after one of her routine periodic health assessment; one that included a mammogram.
“I thought it could not happen to me but it did,” Lewis said. She was diagnosed with cancer.
She said when she went in for the office call she felt it in her gut immediately.
“I knew something was wrong,” Lewis said.
Of the 30 minute office visit, the only words she could recall were, “You have breast cancer.”
“I felt defeated. The courage and determination aspect took a while,” Lewis said. She said each procedure and each recovery process was challenging — especially during the height of COVID. She said it was like taking one step forward and two steps back – but she grew determined to overcome.
Oscar Wilde once said, “When it rains look for rainbows, when it’s dark look for stars.”
So Lewis looked around and found resources that encouraged her to grow stronger physically, mentally and spiritually.
“My family, friends, and fellow pink sisters,” Lewis said. “They all challenged and encouraged me differently. My support team keep me motivated and keep me pushing.”
One of those friends, Col. Nia Middleton, is an OBGYN obstetrician gynecologist and by training an infertility specialist. A friend who understands what it means to fight for your life.
Like Lewis, Middleton was diagnosed with cancer when her career was taking off, serving as the Winn ACH deputy commander for clinical services.
“I don’t think anyone ever can understand what it means to be diagnosed with cancer until you actually go through it,” Middleton said, noting you become surrounded by worry – for your family, children, and your future work.
Middleton said one thing that helps, is sharing – especially with people who are going through a similar experience. So when she learned of Lewis, she knew she could share her own insight – and let her know about the resources available at Winn ACH and though the Soldier Recovery Unit at Fort Stewart.
“Some of the doctors and teams I’ve worked with here, locally; are amazing,” Middleton said, adding it was helpful to talk about her own family experiences; on what they found helpful and would hopefully be helpful to Lewis.
Middleton said the Soldier Recovery Unit was a great resource.
“They provide a wealth of services,” Middleton said, listing a number of programs and services like occupational therapy, physical therapy, behavioral therapy, the Adaptive Reconditioning, swimming, yoga, and gardening.
But in sharing information and getting to know Lewis, Middleton said she drew strength from Lewis, too.
“She is such a hard charger,” Middleton said. “To see her working hard and hitting the pavement every day – despite what she is going through, that’s encouraging.”
Middleton recognized there would be good days and bad days. But it helps to have a shoulder to lean on.
“Friends, family, co-workers, and your medical team,” Middleton said, “They can be a source of strength to help you face your challenges.”
Middleton said resiliency is important, noting you can do more than you think, especially when you have help.
“This experience has opened my eyes to the importance of family, friends and connecting with the people that I care about,” Middleton said. “You take life – one day at a time – giving it your best.”
“As of today, I’m still winning,” Lewis said. “I’m not quitting. I’m not giving up on this battle. Every day is a fight, but I’m still winning. With all the resources available – family and friends; I’ll keep winning this battle.”
Middleton and Lewis also agree, community members can help protect themselves with regularly scheduled screenings.
“My PHA saved my life,” Lewis said.