Army colonel with breast cancer says it’s ok to take a knee

By MaryTherese GriffinApril 5, 2023

Col. Theresa Lewis during rowing competition at Army Adaptive Sports Camp.
1 / 2 Show Caption + Hide Caption – Col. Theresa Lewis during rowing competition at Army Adaptive Sports Camp. (Photo Credit: MaryTherese Griffin, U.S. Army) VIEW ORIGINAL
Col. Theresa Lewis shows her socks with a nod to fighting breast cancer.
2 / 2 Show Caption + Hide Caption – Col. Theresa Lewis shows her socks with a nod to fighting breast cancer.

(Photo Credit: Photo courtesy Col .Theresa Lewis )

FORT BRAGG, N.C. — Col. Theresa Lewis, a registered nurse in the Army, spent the last 29 years taking care of Soldiers. “I was a private at Fort Stewart and my dream was to return to Fort Stewart to retire there.” She did come back to Fort Stewart as the deputy commander for nursing of Winn Army Community Hospital.

In 2020 Lewis was diagnosed with breast cancer. She went through treatment but keeping a leadership role working long hours like she was used to became increasingly difficult. “I couldn’t stay on top of things like I wanted to,” said Lewis. A conversation with another Colonel friend with breast cancer opened her eyes to the Army Recovery Care Program.

“I had a Colonel friend who was in the Soldier Recovery Unit and the more I heard her story it made me realize this is what I need, I need to take a knee also. It was hard, I’ve never said that before. I out-processed from Winn and in-processed to the SRU and had surgery the next day.” That was in October 2022. Lewis then had two surgeries; the first was for her neck which was affected by her previous cancer treatment and a month later she had breast cancer surgery.

“Being a nurse, I thought, 'let me hurry up and get these done so I can get back in the fight and return to duty.'” Taking care of Soldiers is what she was used to. Now she had to be the Soldier being taken care of and it was quite the change.

“It’s very hard going from being a nurse and taking care of people to being the one having to listen to people who are trying to help you. I have to think about what I would tell my patients, and I had to learn to listen to the doctors and nurses now treating me and listen to them.”

Her message to others in leadership is self-care first. “I would hope by others seeing me that I’m taking this time to take a time out and take care of myself that they would do the same. We are used to the 12 to 14-hour days burning the candle at both ends worrying about everyone but ourselves. It’s ok to take care of yourself.”

She’s taking care of her physical needs at the SRU and to her surprise she is learning to take care of her mental and spiritual needs too.

“One of the biggest things I’ve learned is to be true to myself. What I mean by that is when people ask, 'Are you ok?' It’s ok to say 'I’m not ok today.' It’s one of the hardest things I’ve had to learn.”

The adaptive reconditioning program in the SRU is showing Lewis how to do what she wants to but in an adaptive way. Adaptive sports were very appealing to her and that brought her to the Army adaptive sports camp at Fort Bragg.

“Being out here with everyone, the team aspect, the bonding is unbelievable. I am in awe of all these athletes,” says the Team Army Hopeful.

“I’m really looking forward to rowing. I have a lot of scar tissue from my surgeries, and I’ve been working hard. It’s something I couldn’t do before. I wasn’t able to do something as easy as brush my teeth, so to go from that to being here is something I’m excited about!”

While many of the Soldier athletes are enlisted Lewis says this opportunity is a whole new world where the military is concerned.

“We don’t look at each other’s rank, we are a team out here more like brothers and sisters. We learn from each other. We grow through what we go through and that’s our bond.”

She will get her 30 years in the army and will retire at Fort Stewart.” I hope to return as a nurse in the VA or some other civilian capacity to help. I have to help it’s what I do.”