Edward Pratt: Cancer survivor stays on her feet

Seventy-eight-year old Dorothy Betts walked past me Sunday as I was standing on the downtown levee honing my photograph-taking skills with my fancy schmancy camera.

She called me by name, which always gives me the “willies” when I don’t know someone. She said she recognized me from the photograph with my column, which she added, “I read every week.”

OK, I was better. And, she was now on my good side.

We talked for a couple minutes before she began to leave, saying she had to continue her walk because “I’m getting ready for the Race for the Cure next week. I’m a survivor.”

Just then, two friends came by and struck up a conversation. But Dorothy Betts’ last words to me had me intrigued. I looked for her, but she was long gone into the distance.

I continued to take photographs, then sat on a bench, bummed out that I had let a 78-year-old, quick-walking, cancer survivor get away without having a conversation with her.

A few minutes later, lo and behold, she walked right past me. I immediately stopped her, and we launched into a conversation. She declined an invitation to sit, though. She had to continue her preparations for the 5K Komen event.

Betts’ story is a tale of denial, acceptance and action. It began five years ago when she believed something was wrong with her, but she didn’t want to hear bad news.

Betts said she noticed an unusual lump in one of her breasts, but for three years, she put off demands for a diagnosis.

“I felt the lump, but I was scared to go to the doctor to see what it was,” she said. “I was sure that something was wrong.”

According to the American Society of Clinical Oncology, even though cancer occurs most often in older adults, they often receive less frequent screening for cancer and fewer tests, such as biopsies (the surgical removal and examination of tissue), that help determine the stage of cancer.

In some cases, they also receive milder treatments or no treatment at all, even though several studies have shown cancer treatment is beneficial for older people.

After three years, she finally got the examination she knew she needed, and sure enough, the doctor said there was cancerous tissue in her breast.

“It was devastating,” she said. “It was like receiving a death sentence.”

Betts had long been a woman of faith, but “my faith just went out of the window” when she received the diagnosis.

What happened next, Betts finds hard to explain. She went into a shell. She didn’t want people to know she was ill.

“I didn’t want people to know what I had,” she said. “I didn’t want them to see me and pity me.”

Betts found a prayer partner at her church “and we prayed and cried together” about her situation. Slowly, Betts, with the help of her family, began to come around.

Luckily, she said, the physicians treated her with medicine that did not require major radiation or chemotherapy.

She later joined her daughter’s group, Black Girls RUN!. “I’m like the mother of the group,” she said, laughing.

BGR is a national organization of African-American women who make fitness and healthy living a priority.

Betts got into a regular exercise regimen, and last year participated in the Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure. “I felt this was something I had to do. I am a survivor.”

Funds raised from the race are used to provide diagnostics, screening, treatment, services for women and research to discover the causes of breast cancer and, ultimately, its cures.

“I really enjoyed it,” she said of the 5K, or 3.1-mile, event. “Finishing it meant a lot to me,” she said.

Betts said she will be at LSU this morning, along with thousands of other participants, when the race kicks off. She’ll be with other survivors and with members of Black Girls RUN!

As we parted, she laughed and said, “I’m not going to run. But you can bet I’m going to finish.”

Ed Pratt, a former Advocate editor, is assistant to the chancellor for media relations at Southern University. His email address is epratt1972@yahoo.com.