October is National Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Freelance writer Bill Withrow interviewed two Cabarrus County women about their experiences with breast cancer. This is the second story, talking with Teresa Bates of Harrisburg. For the first story, about Sabrina Goble of Harrisburg, visit bit.ly/cabcancer.
"I went to see my regular doctor, Doctor Rebecca Landis, at Cabarrus Family Medicine. It was October of 2008. I was 47 years old and unemployed at the time. I had no health insurance and no benefits. No nothing.
"She asked if I'd ever had a mammogram.
Sign Up and Save
Get six months of free digital access to The Charlotte Observer
"'No,' I said.
"She said I needed to get one. With her knowing I had no insurance, she said she was going to be working with another doctor to do more research on breast cancer because she wanted to be more knowledgeable herself. She said there was a doctor who would work with me on payments.
"I had my mammogram done through the CMC Mobile Unit in the parking lot of Arsley Medical Center on N.C. 49.
"There was a special program that had grants available for women with no insurance, so I didn't have to pay.
"The mammogram got done, and the results were sent to my doctor and forwarded to Doctor Brian Moore, a surgeon. Doctor Landis called, and said that some of the results were abnormal and they wanted to have an ultrasound done. The ultrasound showed a mass, but it was really deep in the breast tissue, and a biopsy was needed. The mass was on the top left side of my left breast. I was made to feel what the mass felt like then, so I would know what to feel for and what any change would feel like.
"On October 20, I had a pre-interview with an anesthesiologist. On October 21, I had a biopsy done at the Gateway Surgery Center on Copperfield Boulevard. The doctor said I could expect some swelling, some bruising, and some drainage from the surgery. ... I had to go back in one week to get my results and see if the mass was malignant.
"That week of waiting, and not knowing, was filled with worry, tears, stress, what ifs, and what my next option was.
"I'd kept my husband, Jimmy, informed through the whole process. He asked me what I going to do if I found out I did have breast cancer.
"I said, 'What can I do?' I'd just have to figure out what to do next.
"At my appointment, the doctor removed the tape from over my stitches and told me that I did not have breast cancer. He said the mass was starting to form into cancer, but I had caught it in time. They removed the entire mass and got it all.
"The doctor emphasized the need for breast self examinations and gave me detailed instructions on how to do it and what to look for. So now I do it every time I take a shower."
Final words of advice
I asked Teresa what it felt like finding out she didn't have cancer.
She let out a long sigh.
"It was like a weight had been lifted off my shoulders. God had answered my prayers."
Her final comments were:
"To all women, regardless of their age, do your own breast self exams and see your own doctors and OB-GYN. If they feel something, they'll tell you to get a mammogram.
"Do it. All women should start before they're 40. My neighbor's daughter found a lump and had to have one breast removed. She was only 20."