Pretty in Pink: Owens reflects on cancer battle
Published 4:00 am Wednesday, October 26, 2011
When T.R. Miller assistant volleyball and softball coach Kim Owens approached ‘friend and fellow coach’ Greg White four years ago with the idea of having “pink games” for the volleyball and softball teams, she did not know that later in her life, the color pink would mean more to her than just a game on a court or softball field.
“The idea was several goals,” Owens said. “First was breast cancer awareness. We coach girls’ athletics and statistics show 1-in-8 women will develop breast cancer. Second, we wanted to help support and collect money for the T.R. Miller Relay for Life team, helping those with all forms of cancer, thirdly, to honor former T.R. Miller coach Sharon Peacock as a cancer survivor and positive role model for those battling cancer. But little did I know that before our “pink games” became a reality, that I too would be a cancer survivor.”
Following a routine mammogram, Owens herself was diagnosed with breast cancer. Although, she was diagnosed with the disease, Owens said she was very lucky that her cancer was found early.
“I am also lucky, as are many others, that I live in a small town with such wonderful medical personnel and facilities,” Owens said. “The mammography department at D.W. McMillan is absolutely marvelous. It is because of this department that my cancer was detected at such an early stage. My surgery was done in Brewton, as was my radiation treatments. I am still followed with diagnostic mammograms done right here in Brewton and seen by an oncologist that treats patients at D.W. McMillan Hospital. All the people involved in my recovery were nothing less than wonderful. How fortunate we are to have all of the treatment options available in our small city.”
Owens is a graduate of Flomaton High School and also a graduate of Troy University where she played tennis. After getting both a B.S. and M.S. in physical education with a minor in psychology, she did her student teaching at Brewton Middle School in the spring of ‘77 and was hired before she finished the term to teach and coach at T.R. Miller. “My first coaching assignments were intramural volleyball and basketball,” Owens said. “This was the first year for girls’ basketball at T.R. Miller and my girls made two Final Four appearances. I also was an assistant track coach.”
Over the years, Owens has coached several other sports at Miller including tennis, volleyball, softball and golf along with being the cheerleader and pep club sponsor.
“After my first seven years of coaching I took several years off to spend time with my family,” Owens said. “I returned to coaching when my daughter was playing tennis and my son was playing golf at Miller. Once I was back into coaching I have continued simply because I enjoyed it.”
Owens said the reason she became a physical education teacher and coach is because of Karen Reynolds.
“I played tennis for Karen at Jeff Davis and admired her,” Owens said. “She always seemed to enjoy what she did and I decided I wanted that—a job that I wanted to go to not just that I had to go to. I’m not saying my job is perfect, some days, but I do love my job, the kids, and my co-workers. Every single day is different and it’s fun. It has been for the last 35 years. I love that I work in a school system that takes so much pride in education and athletics and has such wonderful community support.”
With the love for her family and having coached them in sports, Owen said when she was told she had cancer, her daughter was with her.
“We knew I would be okay,” she said. “I simply told my son that I had cancer and that everything would be fine once I had surgery and treatment. And it was.”
But while it was her daughter that was with her when she found out she had cancer, Owens said that she does not know that she learned as much from her cancer as she learned from her daughter’s battle with it.
“It has been less that a year since Burgess died and her death is without a doubt the hardest thing I will ever go through in my life,” she said. “Burgess was diagnosed with a brain tumor her senior year of high school. She went through numerous surgeries including five craniotomies, two different rounds of radiation treatments, and several years of chemotherapy. She graduated high school and college and then worked while undergoing treatments. Burgess was an amazing person. She never complained about her illness. She simply accepted that it was a part of life that she would have to deal with and she did so without self-pity. Burgess lived each day like it was a gift, and it was. I thank God that he gave me such a wonderful daughter and that I had 28 years with her.”
Owens said that the saying is true that “it is better to have loved and lost than to never have loved.”
“I try each day to live my life as she did because as Abraham Lincoln said ‘in the end it’s not the years in our life that count but rather the life in our years.’” Owens said.
Greg White coaches PE at Brewton Elementary School with Owens and also is the head volleyball and softball coach while Owens is the assistant. He said even though he kids her all the time about it, she is really the glue that holds the two teams together.
“She is always calm under pressure and can handle anything thrown at her,” White said. “She stays positive at all times and the girls see that and react the same way. She loves being a part of the program. She loves the girls and she really loves T.R. Miller. I am very fortunate to have her as an assistant coach as well as being able to teach PE with her every day. She is a class act.”
Current T.R. Miller Lady Tiger volleyball and softball player Leah Brundidge says “Mrs. O” is in the top-five of her most influential people.
“I have never seen her down or in a bad mood, even at the worse of times,” Brundidge said. “Her personality and loving spirit makes playing volleyball and softball at Miller great—not that it already isn’t. She just makes its much, much better. She means so much to T.R. Miller girls athletics and to me personally because of her positive attitude at all times. I can honestly say that I have never heard anything negative come from her. Basically, Mrs. O is really and truly the best.”
Former Lady Tiger and current Union University player Natalie Neal says “Mrs. O” is one of a kind.
“She reminds me of a candle that never runs down. She has a very warm and welcoming personality. She is the person that lights up a room,” Neal said. “Even on the days when we were having a bad practice, she knew how to turn it around and get us going in the right direction. When I think back on my years at Miller, she pops up into my memory. Every time I saw her she was smiling, cracking jokes, and making someone laugh. She is one of the most positive, uplifting, and loving people I have ever met. I learned so much from her just by watching her live life. She always helped boost my confidence when I was feeling doubtful. She is definitely a person I will always look up to.”
Neal said Owens is different from others because of the way she carries herself and the way she cares for others.
“I have never seen a more determined, hopeful, genuine, and truly beautiful person inside and out,” she said. “I cannot say enough about her to even begin to give others a taste of how blessed I and all the girls were to have her in our life throughout our high school years. I truly could not think of a single thing negative to say about her even if I tried. She is an amazing person and I hope to stay in contact with her for the rest of my life. I love her very much.”
As for her thoughts of “pink games” now after having cancer affect her life in more than one way?
“When I see our kids wearing pink I think maybe there will be a cure in their lifetime, at least this is my hope,” Owens said. “The irony about Sharon and I both having breast cancer is the fact that cancer can strike anyone. Don’t think you are immune.”
Owens also said the is thankful to many other people other than just her health care providers.
“My co-workers and friends, which are too many to name, for all their support; my co-worker and co-coach Greg White for all he has done for “pink games” and supporting Relay for Life at T.R. Miller,” Owens said. “I also want to thank ‘my girls’ at T.R. Miller that kept me laughing because laughter is the best medicine; and my family for their support and love. Most of all I am thankful to God for my many blessings. One of them just happens to be that I am a cancer survivor.
“October is breast cancer awareness month—wear pink.”