The Common Ground of Cancer

By Jheri St. James

libyan desert

Every human being on earth shares the experience of living on the soil.  Not every human being on earth shares the experience of having cancer.  Wossene Bowler is doing what she can for those people in her home country, Ethiopia, who share the common ground of this ravaging disease.  Her life work facility in Addis Ababa (Shea) is called The Life’s Second Chance Foundation (TLSCF) (

Here are some statistics:
1) 80 million people in Ethiopia.
2) 1 doctor for every 40,000 people
3) 1 nurse for every 8,000 people
4) 1 program to deal with cancer
5) 1 cobalt machine to serve 80 million people
6) 100,000 new cancer cases each year, increasing   by 5% every year.
7) Cancer: Cervical: 33% - Breast: 19% - and head and neck: 17%
8) Tikur Anbesa Hospital can treat only 500 patients a year.
9) Cancer kills twice the number of people than HIV AIDS in Africa



wassneWossene left Ethiopia in 1980 after her father was killed when the Communist regime came to power in 1974.  The family was stripped of its possessions and became a target of the government.  Bowler made it to the United States, but her siblings remained behind and one of her brothers was eventually taken into custody as a political prisoner.

In 2000, Wossene was diagnosed in the U.S. with CML leukemia after a routine blood tt for an unrelated issue.  She was lucky doctors detected the disease so early.  Her luck held further when she needed a bone marrow transplant, which her brother could provide, the same brother who had been imprisoned.  He might not have been around if Wossene hadn’t pulled strings to get him released and persuaded him to immigrate to California, little realizing the critical role he would play in her life’s future.

In one of those “aha” moments, during a return trip to her homeland after her recovery, Wossene realized that she was the person destined to provide resources for cancer victims in Ethiopia.

Her husband, Dennis, owner of a pet treat company, gave her $10,000 to start Life’s Second Chance Foundation, which received nonprofit status in Ethiopia and in the U.S. in 2006. Pending status applications exist in Canada and the United Kingdom.

wosseneHer goal is to equip and furnish Ethiopia’s first-ever cancer care and research training center with the most up-to-date medical equipment, and to fight cancer on four fronts: patient services, research, education and advocacy. To those ends she has introduced the American Cancer Society to her community in Ethiopia. The Ethiopian government strongly supports her project and the president participated in the groundbreaking ceremony for the hospital. A connection has been forged with the World Health Organization as well.

While working on the building aspect of the project, LSCF provides equipment and medication to Tikur Anbessa Hospital, including incubators, mammogram equipment and medical supplies. This work has been praised for including local people and local institutions.

The goal now is to get the building infrastructure in place, as a center from which to woo established nonprofits and larger organizations. For more information about TLSCF, please visit

“Common Ground” is a term defining a basis for mutual interest or agreement. Two friends can meet in the street and share common ground; 100,000 cancer victims in Ethiopia experience common ground; and the hundreds of soil collectors in our project—most of whom have never met—create the Common Ground 191 project, Gary Simpson’s vision. Wossene’s associate gathered her soil contribution from the 60 hectors of land upon which the hospital pictured below will stand. This precious soil joins the other 192 countries’ dirt on the international wall in Gary Simpson’s studio, a testimony to the faith and drive of one woman to turn her own survival into that of thousands of her fellow Ethiopians. We bless her work and ask that the reader do the same.






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