She is getting ready to deploy to Iraq. What makes Elizabeth different from many other men and women? Ms. Cowie is a recent breast cancer survivor. Elizabeth could have gotten out of her National Guard obligation, but didn't. She is a brave woman, God bless her and all our fighting men and women.
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EDINBURGH, Ind. - Staff Sgt. Elizabeth Cowie's mission — and dream — of serving in Iraq almost ended before it began when tests on a tumor confirmed the worst: She had breast cancer.
Her Army National Guard unit was told earlier this year it would deploy to Iraq this summer. But an Army-mandated mammogram in April revealed a tumor in her right breast that was later found to be cancerous.
The 42-year-old mother of two from Los Angeles is again poised for duty after an aggressive treatment plan — including a May 22 lumpectomy, a second surgery a week later and a five-day targeted radiation treatment. Staying behind wasn't an option, she said.
"The commander said, 'Are you sure? You have an opportunity to go home and be with your family and go through this.' And I said, 'No, I have a family here. I have my civilian family, but this is where I need to be and where I'm needed,'" Cowie said.
She will leave later this month with the 1113th Transportation Company of San Jose, Calif., for at least a year transporting supplies in Iraq. The 150-member unit is currently training at Camp Atterbury, 30 miles south of Indianapolis.
Soldiers with a history of cancer who need monitoring every six months or less should not deploy, according to Army guidelines. But they can still deploy depending upon the soldier's condition, input from doctors and commanding officers, and conditions where the soldier is assigned.
Cowie qualified because she decided to forgo a potentially six-week radiation treatment and instead use a concentrated therapy, MammoSite. The procedure implants an angioplasty-like balloon that kills lingering cancer cells with radiation while sparing healthy tissue.
The implant came out June 8, and doctors declared Cowie cancer-free and clear for duty.
Dr. Morgan Tharp, the radiation oncologist at the Central Indiana Cancer Centers who treated Cowie, said there are still risks, such as the possibility of an infection at the surgery site.
"She was willing and desired to take that small risk," he said.
Cowie will see a military physician while in Iraq and must report any changes in her health to Tharp via e-mail. She will also need a follow-up mammogram and exam in six to eight months — about the time she is scheduled for a leave from her Iraq duty.
Cowie's mother, Pearl Cowie of Moorhead, Minn., isn't surprised that her daughter, who was stationed in the United Arab Emirates during the Persian Gulf War, still wants to deploy.
"I knew this would not deter her. She was just determined to go. That's the kind of person she is," Pearl Cowie said.
Sgt. Juan Padilla, 37, of Riverside, Calif., said Cowie's decision to go to Iraq inspired the 1113th as it prepares to deploy.