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THE OPUS OF HEALING—Believe in Dowism

March 9th, 2016

For the students at Commack High School, strong ties to their orchestra director Karen Dow were seen through the loving acts of support throughout her recovery, and well after.

Karen Dow was diagnosed with breast cancer in the summer of 2015. It did not take long for her to begin researching facilities and physicians. In her relentless search to find the best experts for her treatment, and after many interviews with physicians at a variety of health facilities, Ms. Dow found a sense of comfort in the physicians at St. Catherine of Siena Medical Center.

She met with Medical Director of St. Catherine’s Breast Health Program June Lee, MD, and St. Catherine’s Administrative Director of Reconstructive Microsurgery Diana Y. Yoon-Schwartz, MD, together they discussed the most effective treatment plan. “I totally did my research, I interviewed different doctors—Dr. Lee, led me to Dr. Schwartz—they are both amazing doctors and made me feel so comfortable,” said Ms. Dow.

Photo (L-R):  Medical Director of St. Catherine’s Breast Health Program June Lee, MD, Commack High School Orchestra Director Karen Dow, St. Catherine’s Administrative Director of Reconstructive Microsurgery Diana Y. Yoon-Schwartz, MD and Assistant Principal at Commack High School

While Ms. Dow was focused on recovering and ultimately getting back to her best health, her students were coordinating a circle of support that would forever be remembered.

Seniors Maya Wang and Giovanna Calderon were the leaders of the movement now referred to as “I Believe in Dowism”. “I Believe in Dowism” started as a senior project for the two students and was always inclusive of Ms. Dow, the teacher they say imparted more than just music to them throughout their high school career. “Gia and I got together and decided why don’t we sell t-shirts that promote music and also celebrate our last year with Ms. Dow,” said Maya.

Maya started designing the t-shirts before Mrs. Dow was diagnosed—and when they learned that she had breast cancer, the senior project morphed into a school-wide initiative in support of their beloved teacher. “After we learned about Mrs. Dow diagnosis we decided to modify the theme of the shirts and make it more about the spirit of Ms. Dow—and to show her how much we all care for her,” said Giovanna.

The motto Dowism was natural for the students to come up with as it began long before the students and teachers showed their support for her health. “It started in freshman year when we entered Mrs. Dow’s class—she would not only teach music, she would also always give us lessons at the end—and most of her lectures we would take with us even beyond the classroom. We called them Dow speeches—some about being in the moment, enjoying life and happiness,” said Maya. She continued, “In the beginning of freshman year, we thought, why don’t we take all those Dowisms and make a t-shirt one day—and that is how we came up with Dowism.”

After the students designed the t-shirts, they sold them and donated half the funds to an organization of Ms. Dow’s choice. She selected the Breast Health Center at St. Catherine of Siena, donating $347, which will be used toward patient services. “In solidarity and with gratitude, we hope to make a difference in someone’s life as you did with hers—thank you,” said Maya and Giovanna.

Photo (L-R): Giovanna Calderon, Karen Dow and Maya Wang

Assistant Principal at Commack High School Leslie Boritz thanked St. Catherine’s physicians for visiting the school for a special welcome back gathering in February. The orchestrated message that the faculty and students wanted to share with the physicians and medical center was, “Thank you St. Catherine’s for Bringing Dow Back!” Drs. Lee and Yoon-Schwartz were so moved by the thoughtfulness and outpouring of love shown by the Commack High School community and simply stated, “She was a wonderful patient—and she always spoke of getting back to her students."

Ms. Dow was moved to tears when she expressed, “My students—through the diagnosis—were always on my mind—they are very loving and very caring so I wanted to be here for them.” Ms. Dow only missed eight days of school after her second surgery. By the fall Mrs. Dow was back in good shape and ready to conduct again. “I did conduct, but less motion than I would normally,” said Ms. Dow.

 “A hardship in my life became a great blessing—especially because of the sense of community I have with the faculty, students, doctors,” said Ms. Dow. “It goes back to my teachings—a Dowism to live by—we are all in this together.”

For more information about St. Catherine of Siena Medical Center, Breast Health Services, call (631) 870-3444.