“I don’t want to do this to them.” That was Teresa Peinado Bowes ’90 first thought in 2017 when she was diagnosed with breast cancer. It had been an annual doctor’s appointment that turned into a biopsy and the words “prepare yourself” before waiting for confirmation.
When the call finally came confirming the worst, there it was again: “I don’t want to do this to them.” Them being, of course, her family. Teresa’s husband Jim and her five daughters. How would they handle this as a family? What would they look like on the other side? “Cancer is never done. I am finished with treatment but physically I will never be the same. This year, I finally came to terms with these limitations and I accept what I can’t change.”
After learning of the diagnosis, Teresa and her husband Jim waited two weeks to tell the rest of their family. “October is special to our family because we have four birthdays this month, and I didn’t want to ruin all their birthdays. Jim and I decided to wait until my first chemo treatment to tell the family.” Later, she reflected that these two weeks were some of the hardest of the process—the fear of the unknown.
When they finally shared the news, their daughters agreed on the same feelings: fear and uncertainty. “My initial reaction was anger, then fear. I thought, ‘Why would this happen to such a good person who has done so much for others?’” said Maggie ’22.
“We thought we were in trouble for watching too much TV,” said Amelia ’25 and Allison ’25. “Anytime we were called to a ‘Family Meeting,’ we typically got a lecture about screen time.”
The girls were young, still in elementary and middle school, so they had only heard the worst case scenarios when it comes to a disease like cancer. Although the diagnosis wasn’t close to terminal they learned, it was going to be a hard year that would change everything.
“I was relieved that she wasn’t going to die, but it was a really incredibly hard year,” said Audrey ’24.
Throughout it all faith, family, and community held them together. Their St. Isidore community rallied around the Bowes family. From cooking meals to a shoulder to lean on, the community came together. “A lot of women go through this journey alone,” said Teresa. “I don’t know how they do it. I’m not a private person and I needed my family, friends, and community to know and support our family through this journey.”
A friend suggested they write a family prayer together to give them strength. Teresa shared the poem with us;
Thank you for today and tomorrow and for all the love we share. Guide us through the darkest night for you are our light. Please help Mom stay strong on this healing journey, and please keep Mom and our family in the palm of your hand. For we are the Bowes.
“My children learned and saw unconditional love by our family, community, and friends,” she said. “My husband’s love and support were unbelievable. I feel so lucky and blessed to have him in my life. We have always been very solid, but you never know how your partner is going to handle something like this. Jim was incredible, and it grew our love and faith to a new level in our relationship.”
As the matriarch of the family, Teresa herself demonstrated an enormity of strength from which her family also drew. “Mom did a good job making sure we felt safe at home,” said Audrey ’24. “She always asked us about our day—there was always music playing, always food. She was always there for us. That was nice.”
Her daughter Lily ’22 shared, “I learned a lot about the grit of my Mom. Even through her pain and suffering, she still got us rides, kept us on schedule, and even walked the dog, Chewy, every day.”
“I feel like I was carried by my faith during this time,” said Teresa. “My body was in the best shape of my life, and I was super healthy prior to this diagnosis. Miracle after miracle after miracle is how I entered this journey.”
After the initial diagnosis, she was contacted by the Order of Malta to attend a healing pilgrimage to Lourdes in France. Initially, she didn’t think that was meant for her since the diagnosis wasn’t terminal.
A year later, though, the process called to her. She was preparing for a major reconstruction surgery after treatment and wanted to be both spiritually and physically prepared for what would be a challenging surgery and long recovery.
“I drank the holy water at Lourdes. I dipped in the baths. I felt such powerful healing and closeness to God. I knelt where St. Bernadette saw the Virgin Mary,” said Teresa.
Now she walks and counsels those in her community going through a new diagnosis. Teresa knows she will never be the same after this experience, but she is secure in the knowledge that with her family, community, and God she can keep going and get through whatever obstacles life might give.