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Barbara Bates, founder of “Knocking Out Breast Cancer,” talks about her road to wellness


Barbara Bates

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Updated: October 18, 2013 2:25PM

It was 11 a.m. on June 1, 2009, when I learned I had breast cancer. I was 54 years old, and I’d only gone to the doctor because a friend thought I should; I’d felt a lump, but thought it was nothing. Now, here I was. Time felt like it was standing still. I remember distinctly thinking, “Breast cancer? I’m not a white woman; I don’t have big breasts; there is no history of cancer in my immediate family. This can’t be happening to me.” I also remember thinking, “How much time do I have to live?”

I readily admit I had all the wrong information about breast cancer, even though I consider myself an intelligent person. I wasn’t getting mammograms because I never thought I was at risk.

My pastor was a physician at Northwestern Memorial Hospital and introduced me to Dr. Steven Rosen, an oncologist and the director of Robert H. Lurie Comprehensive Cancer Center, who quickly became my new BFF. Dr. Rosen’s treatment plan called for a lumpectomy, 14 weeks of chemotherapy and 35 weeks of radiation followed by one year on Herceptin, which was delivered through a port placed in my chest for easy access to a vein. The procedure and bulk of the treatment took about nine months, and I must say I was a trouper. I worked through most of it and did all I could to keep it moving. That became my mantra: “Keep it moving.”

After I recovered, I began thinking about the other women out there who were survivors, but who weren’t telling their stories. If I’d just known earlier that breast cancer was so prevalent, maybe I would have taken getting a mammogram a bit more seriously.

It was that need to vanquish the silence that had me asking everyone in my circle, “Have you had a mammogram?” I was amazed at the elite group of women who were just as in the dark as I was. They were an extremely diverse group: young, old and, yes, many of them African-American. Statistics tell us that although more white women will contract breast cancer, more women of color will die from this insidious disease. I couldn’t wrap my head around why.

I knew that because I had a voice, I needed to use it to advocate for breast cancer awareness and education for all women of color in our city. Here’s what people need to know. You can get a free mammogram and you can get free treatment at any major hospital, but you’ve got to take the initiative — they won’t turn you away. And I cannot reinforce how important early detection is. Being tested is vital to your being able to treat this disease and survive.

I’m going into my fifth year as a survivor and I still worry about my cancer coming back. But I don’t let the worry cripple me. I believe my calling is to be a voice in the community and raise funds for breast cancer education. I hope you’ll join me.

Join Barbara Bates at the second annual “Knocking Out Breast Cancer: a Fundraiser and Fashion Show,” hosted by WFLD-Channel 32’s Robin Robinson and comedian Sinbad, Sunday from 5 to 11 p.m at Venue One, 1044 W. Randolph. Tickets are $250. For information, call (312) 808-8091.

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