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Life coach and LOWVELO supporter reflects on how she bounced back from loss

Carrie Smalls and Ja'Net Bishop

Ja’Net Bishop, shown with her mother, Carrie Smalls, is excited to help raise funds for cancer research after Smalls benefited from specialized care at Hollings Cancer Center.

Ja’Net Bishop, Ed.D., spends every day giving thanks for all she has in life. The mother of two sons and former school principal is no stranger to pain. She lost her husband, William Bishop Sr., unexpectedly to a heart attack and has watched her mother, Carrie Smalls, battle a difficult cancer diagnosis. 

“I realized after losing my husband that I needed to turn my pain into purpose,” Bishop said. “When I moved back home to be closer to my parents, I began to rebuild my life.”

After moving back to Summerville, Bishop decided to start attending cycling classes at Pivotal Fitness. It was during one of these classes that Bishop heard about LOWVELO, an annual event that raises money for lifesaving cancer research at MUSC Hollings Cancer Center. Bishop, whose mom was treated for advanced Burkitt’s Lymphoma at Hollings in 2009, didn’t hesitate to sign up for the event on Nov. 6. 

“We are so fortunate that my mom was treated at Hollings and got to see a specialist for her exact condition – Dr. Robert Stuart,” she said. “It’s so important to make progress in cancer treatment. If there isn’t funding to do research, then we can’t continue moving forward and possibly find a cure.”

Bishop admits that there were plenty of difficult days and challenges with her mother’s cancer journey. While they remained optimistic about the outcome, Bishop said there were times they had to prepare themselves for the worst.

“There was a time after my husband’s passing that my mom’s condition took a turn for the worse,” she said. “To help me cope with those times, I decided to keep a gratitude journal and wrote down three things I was grateful for each day.”

It was during that process that Bishop said she found joy in unlikely places. The difficult times made her stronger, and her husband’s unexpected death prepared her in a way to deal with her mother’s cancer diagnosis. Through the difficult times, Bishop focused on what truly mattered in her life. “If we were told we only had two weeks to live, we wouldn’t be worried about a lot of the things we stress over every day. We would be worried about reconnecting with loved ones.”

Bishop, who is taking part in the stationary cycling class option being offered in this year’s LOWVELO to raise money for future cancer patients at Hollings, credits Hollings for her mother’s remarkable turnaround and recovery. Her mother recently celebrated her 80th birthday in July. Bishop said she will keep her mother in mind while participating in LOWVELO for the first time. Thanks to Stuart and the team of specialists at Hollings, she has been given more time to make treasured memories with her mom. 

In addition to the cycling class option, LOWVELO 2021 features four routes – 10, 22, 57 and 100 miles – as well as a Home Team option. “I love that LOWVELO has options for people of all levels. I’m not a long-distance cyclist, but I do love cycling classes. This gives me, and others like me, a chance to still participate in a great cause.”

Bishop is no stranger to giving back, having served in the military and published several life coaching and wellness books that offer encouragement to others. She also founded Boots to Breakthrough in 2018 to help women in the military transition back into civilian life while embracing their own personal wellness. “I found that many people are struggling with how to create the best versions of themselves and how to make the rest of their life the best of their life.”

Bishop leans on her experience as a wife and mother, her time in the military and her background as an experienced school principal, school counselor and certified life coach, helping people in Boots to Breakthrough transition and redesign their lives. Her professional and personal experiences allow her to connect with others who have their own obstacles to overcome. 

Bishop coaches her clients that personal wellness is all encompassing – from mental and environmental health to physical health. That’s especially important for cancer patients and their caregivers who are facing incredible obstacles during a stressful time.

“As a caregiver to someone going through a traumatic experience like cancer, you are so focused on pouring into them that sometimes you forget about yourself, and you are just pouring from an empty cup,” Bishop said. “As the cup gets empty, and you’re not filling it with wellness strategies for yourself, you, in turn, won’t be much good for yourself or the person you want to care for.”

She hopes her participation in LOWVELO 2021 and being an ambassador for the event will inspire people to put their health first. She also looks forward to coming together with 1,000 other riders for a great cause.

“I’m looking forward to, in my own small way, being part of the bigger solution in the fight against cancer. I want to help raise money for research so more people can survive cancer. What we do today can make an impact tomorrow, and I believe we all have the responsibility to be part of that impact.” 

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