story and photos by erin schreyer.
In 2020, more than 912,000 women were diagnosed with some form of cancer in the United States alone. During that same pandemic year, countless medical appointments were canceled while people were social distancing, and yet still each day nearly 2,500 women heard the news, “you have cancer.” There is no doubt that these words can be crushing to hear, but what’s equally crushing is the lack of tangible, encouraging support that exists to help women feel beautiful, strong or “normal” before, during and after cancer treatment.
When Helen Bowles’ best friend Jean Maday was battling ovarian cancer, she craved this missing gap and was left discouraged when her lifestyle magazine subscriptions became un-relatable in too many ways. Because treatment often impacts hair, skin, appetite, fitness and fashion, not to mention the more obvious physical, mental and emotional well-being, the content that used to inspire her toward her best self left her grieving yet another loss in her cancer journey. It wasn’t long after Maday’s ultimate passing that Bowles’ decided to honor her fashionable friend by fulfilling her dream of creating a lifestyle magazine for women affected by cancer. In 2021, with purpose, passion and an unpaid all-volunteer staff, Brighter magazine hit the publishing circuit.
Serving as board president, publisher and chief editor, Bowles is not only carrying on the legacy of her dear friend, but also her mother, whom she lost to pancreatic cancer just weeks before her first child was born. Coinciding with the timing of this story, Bowles herself is undergoing treatment for skin cancer. Although treatable, she is relating to the double edged sword of unknown fears on one side and information overload on other…all while experiencing the self-consciousness of noticeable changes to her appearance. Bowles says it’s these “secondary” challenges that she hopes to give support for women in the cancer community.
“While we do often engage medical professionals to help create content, Brighter isn’t a medical or prescriptive publication,” Bowles explained. “We actually hope to be more like a Girlfriend’s Guide to support women during and through their cancer journey. As a patient’s medical team determines treatment, Brighter offers helpful tips, encouragement and relatable stories that allow readers to spend their energy on healing themselves and maintaining important relationships. And hopefully, it even brings a smile, offers hope and helps women feel a little less isolated in these unique emotions brought on by cancer. Women, in particular, need that.”
Bowles led the charge to publish two issues in 2021, and she’s on pace to deliver quarterly publications moving forward. With stories written from knowledgeable and empathetic viewpoints, Brighter includes content to support a woman’s whole being. The goal is to help equip women to look and feel their best while dealing with the swirling changes around most facets of their life. In short, the magazine aims to offer a brighter perspective that’s attainable and relatable.
“It’s also important to us that the magazine is graphically and visually appealing. We want it to look and feel good to women as they read it. We hope to equip them to continue to find life’s pleasure and enjoyment as a woman. We want to remind them that they don’t have to give that up to cancer, and they can still find beauty in things, most especially in themselves and in their relationships,” added Bowles.
The feedback so far has been rewarding and serves as fuel for Bowles, who is embracing this new world of magazine publishing and fundraising. She has brushed off her graphic design degree and thrown herself fully in the publishing waters with confidence in the mission. Bowles said that it’s worth every ounce of effort to serve this important niche within the cancer community. Her team of volunteers (including professional writers, photographers, medical and industry experts, as well as student writers and social media support) couldn’t agree more. They are loving this endeavor and the impact it’s achieving.
Bowles shared, “As one survivor told me, ‘Helen, being completely truthful, when I read the magazine it made me mad! [I was] mad that I didn’t have a resource like this when I was going through treatment. When I realized what Brighter magazine was doing, however, it made me happy to know that the women coming behind me would have the information and support I lacked.”
Bowles hopes to continue to grow Brighter’s distribution, so it can be accessible to anyone who would find encouragement for the battle with cancer. Her hope is that it would ultimately be in the waiting room of every oncologist, as well as on the coffee tables of any service providers or gathering places who see patients regularly. Today, it is sent to several states and even one other country outside of the U.S.
“I believe that I was led down this path. There are too many beautifully intersecting paths for it to be coincidence,” Bowles shared. “And I’ve seen the immeasurable value of finding life and beauty in the midst of pain. Brighter brings light into areas that can seem dark to many women who are overwhelmed by cancer and its shadows. We have confidence in that mission, because in the battle of light and darkness, light wins.”
To order an issue or to support Brighter magazine financially, so it can remain a free resource, please visit www.brightermagazine.com. The publication also hosts social media pages on Facebook and Instagram, @brightermagazine. Brighter magazine is 501(c)3 pending.