LBHS Alum Hopes Story of Survival Can Save Others

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Stephanie Bowen at the 2018 Steps Against Melanoma 5K. This year’s walk takes place Sunday, May 19, in Laguna Niguel. Photo courtesy of Stephanie Bowen

Steps Against Melanoma 5K Set for Sunday in Laguna Niguel

By Amy Orr | LB Indy

Stephanie Bowen grew up loving Laguna’s sunshine.

“The beaches of St. Ann’s, Thalia, and Brooks Street are embedded in my memory,” Bowen said. “I spent years in the sun without sunscreen. I burnt and peeled and burnt and peeled over and over.”

When Bowen and her twin sister were little, they rolled in the sand so much that people called them “sand fleas.” Bowen remembers a happy childhood filled with beach bonfires and surfboards. But her beach experiences did not include sun lotion or protective clothing.

In 2000, Bowen found a small, brown, itchy spot on her forearm. It was stage one melanoma, but it was cleared after a lymph node biopsy. Unfortunately, the disease returned in 2010 as stage four melanoma. A lump in her armpit grew to be a 16-centimeter tumor that wrapped around her brachial plexus nerve.

Married and the mother of a 12-year-old daughter, Bowen was heartbroken. Doctors sent her home devoid of hope, with only three or four months left to live. Her LBHS classmate Brian Hogan had died from melanoma in 2008, after a 61-day battle with the disease. Bowen knew the odds were stacked against her, but she refused to give up.

“I faced a death sentence,” Bowen said. “In the meantime, I fought like hell.”

She and her family researched and found a rare, experimental treatment called biochemotherapy. The protocol, which requires hospital admittance, uses three types of chemotherapy drugs and two different immunotherapy drugs. This program, which essentially delivers two years of chemotherapy in five months, is too aggressive and toxic for some people. Bowen lost 60 pounds and all of her hair during five cycles of treatment. But she survived.

As a survivor, she wants to tell others about the dangers of intentional tanning. She also wants to increase the public’s knowledge of alternative treatment options.

“Cancer is one of the most frightening words one can hear,” Bowen wrote in a blog post. “I am so very thankful to be here and to be able to spread my story of hope. In this day and age, a stage IV diagnosis does not mean death.”

In 2016, Bowen decided to actively raise melanoma awareness. She joined forces with the AIM at Melanoma Foundation and started a local 5K walk and fun run.

On Sunday, May 19, her fourth annual AIM 5K will take place in Laguna Niguel. Bowen wants to spread hope and raise money for life-saving research.

“I loved my childhood and growing up in Laguna,” Bowen said. “I wish I had known about and believed how dangerous the sun was when being overexposed.”

Bowen encourages those with melanoma to stay positive, seek a second opinion, and be willing to try new drugs and/or a clinical trial.

“There are many new doctors who are coming up with new treatments to cure melanoma and eventually cure cancer,” Bowen said.

To join the AIM at Melanoma Foundation 5K on Sunday, May 19, sign up at support.aimatmelanoma.org/event/walk-2019-laguna-niguel/e219049. The walk starts at Laguna Niguel Regional Park, Gazebo #4, 28241 La Paz Road. Registration opens at 8 a.m. and the opening ceremony begins at 8:40 a.m. There’s no fee to participate, but each walker is encouraged to raise a minimum of $50. Leashed dogs are welcome. For more information, contact Bowen at [email protected].

And for a more detailed account of Bowen’s experience, look for her book, “My Journey with Melanoma,” on Amazon.

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