Editor’s note: These stories were produced by the Department of Defense and published here as part of a partnership with Military Times.
FORT BRAGG NC, - 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 DCN (Deputy Commander for Nursing) of Winn Army Community Hospital.
In 2020 she 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.
“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.” She was now the patient.
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- 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. She made Team Army and is preparing for competition at the 2023 Warrior Games Challenge in June.
“Being out here with everyone, the team aspect, the bonding is unbelievable. I am in awe of all these athletes,” says Lewis.
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.”