Strength is relative. It’s sometimes overused and exaggerated to prove a point. But when it comes to Khadija Bowens, forget the hyperbole. All of the superlatives apply because her emotional, mental and physical fortitude is immeasurable.
Bowens, the consummate do for others type, now needs some help. And it’s in that reaching out that Bowens, a former Temple basketball guard under Dawn Staley, is standing taller and stronger than many of us only hope to as she fights, simply to get back to normal.
The North Philly native is battling a rare form of ovarian cancer called clear cell carcinoma which accounts for just 20 percent of all cases of ovarian cancer. She went public with her diagnosis and made others aware of her fight against the disease with an Instagram post in October before her first round of chemotherapy.
It caught so many of her friends and loved ones off guard that she was inundated with messages and calls of support and love. But instead of sulking about her condition and turning inward as she fights for her life, Bowens has bloomed like a hydrangea in the warmth of spring.
“It was challenging to receive all of this because I’m used to doing,” Bowens said. “I’m used to moving around and doing things for people and kind of making things happen. When I shared that with my mom, like, mom what is going on, this is crazy? When she gave it to me the way she did, she said these are from all of the seeds I’ve been planting over the years. When I looked at it like that, I said OK, I need to receive all of this. And the more I’ve been opening up and being more receptive to it, it’s been a beautiful thing.”
Bowens expounded about the “people, relationships and reconnections” she’s been able to make through telling people about her diagnosis, and described it as “a beautiful thing.” She said that she can feel the love from others and the outpouring has been “getting her through.”
That demonstration of love was front and center Thursday night as Bowens' alma mater, Temple University, played against her Hall of Fame friend and mentor Dawn Staley’s South Carolina Gamecocks.
Bowens has admittedly struggled with the idea of having a GoFundMe to encourage others to help contribute to her rising costs and medical bills as she endures her cancer fight. She said she felt better “allowing someone to receive something in return rather than just make a donation.”
In that regard, Bowens made special T-shirts, hoodies, and masks with her logo, which you can purchase on her Instagram page, @kbowens_bball.
To Bowens’ surprise, Staley and others were wearing her gear during last night’s Gamecocks victory over the Owls, and the broadcast made sure to make special mention of Bowens and accentuate the bond and connection Bowens and Staley enjoy.
“Coach has been, like, in my life even before I knew her,” Bowens said. “Coach was my idol, she’s the reason I wore No. 5, she’s from North Philly. She was literally my idol. I had a poster on my ceiling and it’s crazy because it used to say, you can call her coach. She wasn’t coaching at this time, she wasn’t doing any of that, so she’s always been a part of my story and my journey. She’s just been here. Coach knew [about my cancer] before a lot of people knew, because that’s just what it’s been.
"I didn’t even know, at that time, that her sister had gone through a similar situation that she had shared with me. So it was just like, damn, cool, I need you, you can be here, you kind of understand even more because you’ve experienced it with a family member. [She’s] just consistent with keeping my energy up and reassuring me that everything will be OK and everything else she does behind the scenes.”
Bowens has lost some of her hair through her treatment. She’s lost some weight. Her body doesn’t always respond well to chemotherapy and sometimes she has to skip appointments because her white blood cell count is too low. Although, through it all, she credits her walk with God and her growth in that relationship as a source for her continued high spirits and upbeat attitude.
“This is not just my journey,” Bowens said. “This is not just about me. I don’t know what God is doing in this situation, but I know this is for someone else. I just thought it was important to share, to let people know what was going on, and I’m glad I did.”