Valdosta Daily Times

October 15, 2012

Cancer survivor rides through ‘amazing, life-changing event’

Dean Poling
The Valdosta Daily Times

VALDOSTA — Kim Rowell rode motorcycles throughout her life, but it wasn’t until her life was threatened by breast cancer that she bought her 1994 Harley-Davidson Sportster.

“I got it and just knew I am going to get well enough to ride this bike,” Rowell says.

Thoughts of riding her Harley kept her spirits buoyed. She continued riding it into remission and into her years of being cancer-free. Her Harley and breast cancer experience have made Rowell a familiar figure in South Georgia.

South Georgia Medical Center’s Pearlman Comprehensive Cancer Center featured Rowell in a series of television commercials and newspaper ads through the past couple of years, playing on TV again recently as part of National Breast Cancer Awareness Month.

She seems so forthright and sincere in these commercials that people approach her in stores and other public places to ask if she is the woman in the commercial. They ask about her motorcycle. They ask her about her experiences with breast cancer, and Rowell shares with them.

As she notes in the commercial, her breast cancer experience has been “like a great Harley ride. It’s not the destination. It’s the journey.”

She grew up Kim Busby, the daughter of Buck and Frances Busby. She attended Lowndes High School, graduating in 1980. She also attended Val-Tech, now Wiregrass Georgia Technical College, studying accounting and data processing. She has put those skills to work for many years at Johnson Distributing.

She met Dale Rowell. They married July 3, 1982. They spent several years together before having son Dakota, now a 15-year-old Lowndes High School student, like his mother, also a Georgia Bridgeman; he turns 16 next month. Kim describes her son as “the sparkle of my eye.”

Dakota was 7 years old in December 2003, when his mother was diagnosed with breast cancer.

That same month, Kim Rowell felt a lump while performing a self-examination. She had a mammogram which led to a biopsy on Dec. 22, 2003. On Dec. 23, she received the breast cancer diagnosis.

On Dec. 26, she received her port. On Dec. 31, she was in the Pearlman Cancer Center, a far cry from how she and Dale had spent past New Year’s Eves. Her lymph nodes were removed. On Jan. 26, 2004, she started chemotherapy.

“I knew I would be all right,” Rowell says. “I just knew. I’m a pretty tough person, but I worried, how’s my family going to do with it? How’s my 7-year-old son going to deal with it?”

Her family supported her. Dakota knew his mom was sick. He would rub her bald head. Dale took care of her. She saw the Harley and knew she wanted it. Through treatments, she met an amazing cancer educator in Martha Griffis and the two women became best friends.

Having breast cancer, Kim Rowell realized what is important in her life.

“When they told me I had cancer, I couldn’t comprehend anything,” Rowell says. “Hearing that is one of the scariest things you’ll ever hear. … You know, we can’t control what’s going to happen to us but you can control how you embrace it.

“As strange as it sounds,” she says of breast cancer, “it’s been a blessing in my life.”

She grew as a person. Her family grew. Her church life changed with Central Church of Christ. She became involved with the Partnership Cancer Fund that provides supplemental funding for Lowndes County cancer patients in need because of cancer. She participates in the American Red Cross’ Reach to Recovery program.

“Don’t get me wrong. I do not want it again. I learned enough the first go-round,” Rowell says. “But I would not be the person I am today if I hadn’t gone through cancer. It was an amazing, life-changing event.”