By Savanah Bandy
Minda Cowen loves people, so she absolutely adores her work as a hair stylist at Wanderlust Hair Art Studio and manager of The Beauty Supply Store in Joplin.
“I’ve done hair for 30 years, and I think what I love the most is you get to know the people you work with and get to know lots of different people,” she said.
When she’s not behind the chair, Minda can usually be found hanging out with her two daughters and four grandchildren. She loves her life and is grateful for each day because 10 years ago, she received a diagnosis that threatened to take it all away.
“On September 4, 2011, I was taking off my bathing suit. As I reached down to undo my top, I felt a lump under my right arm. So, I called the doctor and went through all the tests, and it was cancer.”
Just one year prior, Minda had lost both of her parents just eight weeks part. Devastated by the loss, she didn’t know if she could handle having another battle ahead of her.
“I had just lost them and literally lived with them and was their caretaker. My mother had lung disease and was bedfast before she passed away, and my father passed away eight weeks later from a heart attack.”
“That period of time was a roller coaster ride. I really neglected myself.”
She said she was lucky she found the lump when she did because she had not been doing her regular self-checks or getting mammograms — a practice she was usually diligent about after having a breast cancer scare in 1998.
“That was my 50th birthday present,” she said with a laugh. “I found it on September 4 and turned 50 on September 25.”
On receiving the news, she knew she had to fight. Her parents had always called her the “hard-headed” and “strong” one in the family. She knew she had to honor their memory and get through it.
“I went into it with a lot of faith,” she said. “I was like, ‘Ok, God, we’ve got to get me through this.’”
Minda underwent a double mastectomy, chemotherapy and 37 radiation treatments. She had to go through five surgeries in one year.
To stay strong, she continued to work and strived to live her life as normal.
“I worked through it. I tried to stay focused on work and live my life and not dwell on it too much,” she said. “It’s important to stay busy and find something to focus on because you can’t just say ‘stop.’ When you have cancer, it feels like life stops, but it can’t stop.”
After two years fighting, including 13 months on the medication Herceptin, Minda was finally declared cancer free.
“All I could think was, ‘Thank God!’ This is finally over with. No more surgeries and no more doctors,” she said. “It was like, some part of normal again. I don’t know if there ever is normal again, but whatever normal meant after all those crazy two years, it was finally here.”
As she reflects on her hard-fought win against breast cancer, she can sum it up in one phrase:
“Life is good. God is good.”
See more photos and survivor stories on our e-edition or in our October SHOW ME THE OZARKS print magazine.