Medical radiographer transitions from reader to writer

Brenda Owens

Brenda Owens, a medical radiographer specialist at UI Health, wrote her first novel about breast cancer survivors. “You write about what you know,” Owens says. “I’m passionate about breast cancer.” — Photo: Roberta Dupuis-Devlin


Already a voracious reader, Brenda Owens found extra reading time on her hands in 2009 when she was home recovering from blood clots.

“The books that I read were not that exciting,” she said. “I’m not an English major, but I thought, ‘I can do better than this.’”

The result is her first book, Half a Woman, a novel about breast cancer survivors. “You write about what you know,” said Owens, a medical radiographer specialist at UI Health with three decades of experience. “I’m passionate about breast cancer.”

She started by coming up with some characters, “what I wanted each to have, and made a story behind them.”

Her writing schedule was six hours each on Saturday and Sunday, plus two weekday stretches of two hours. “Sometimes I would start getting a flow and couldn’t stop till midnight,” Owens said. “I had 400 pages before I knew it.”

Recently her daughter, Victoria, 27, graduated from the Charlotte (North Carolina) School of Law, and 17 family members attended the ceremony. “On the way home I turned to my husband and said, ‘My book is published,’” she said. “To me [the graduation] was a bigger accomplishment.”

Readers have said their favorite character in Half a Woman is 24-year-old Maria, a single parent without health insurance who is just starting to date again. “Because she is only 24, most people have the perception that she would have no breast problem,” Owens said. “But the lump is getting bigger.”

Another character, Poi, “has a cesarean in the morning and a mastectomy in the afternoon. She can’t stand her new body.” And because her husband is a “breast man,” Poi fears he will no longer love her and decides she wants a divorce.

There are three other characters, but Owens says if you want to know about them you should read the book.

The author was surprised at how well Half a Woman was received. Soon she was doing interviews with NBC5 Chicago and Focus Talk Radio on WKKC-FM and getting invitations to talk at book clubs. “I enjoy the positive feedback,” Owens said. Among those she heard from was Mellody Hobson, president of Ariel Investments, chair of DreamWorks Animation and wife of filmmaker George Lucas.

“I wrote it because I had something to say,” Owens said. “I didn’t write it thinking it would help people. But it apparently has. I got the most amazing letters.”

Owens writes as B.B. Owens (her middle name is Benita). She grew up on the West Side of Chicago. She earned an associate degree at Wilbur Wright College, one of the Chicago City Colleges, before completing a bachelor’s at Elmhurst College.

“I’ve been in this profession for 29 years,” Owens noted. She worked for a year at the UIC hospital in 1984-85, then went to Columbus Hospital. In 1991 she joined the staff at Swedish Covenant, where she was chief technologist in specialized imaging. She came to UI Health in 2005.

Owens lives in Oak Park with her husband, Victor, an engineer, with whom she recently took up ballroom dancing. In addition to their daughter Victoria, they have a son, Victor Jr., 25, a teacher at Rockford High School.

“I love a good book,” she said. She keeps track of all the books she’s read — 427 since May 30, 2009. “I can easily go through one book a weekend.” She’s a fan of mystery writer J.D. Nixon, having read all six of the author’s Heller series, and romance novelist Sylvia Day.

Does she plan to write another book?

“Several people have asked me that,” Owens said. Her reply: “I say no to nothing.”

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