Surving breast cancer

First Posted: 10/15/2013

LUMBERTON — Kimberly Worley and her gospel group C3 produced a song called “Get Up” for the American Cancer Society in 2008.

Three years later, in April 2011, Worley was diagnosed with breast cancer, which had advanced to the second stage.

“The human side of me kicked in first and when you hear cancer, the first thing you think of is death,” Worley said.

She and Angela Carter, a music teacher at Prospect Elementary School in Maxton, faced — and survived — a disease that has killed more than 39,000 women in the United States this year alone, according to the American Cancer Society.

In Lumberton, pink flamingos overtook the grounds of the Gibson Cancer Center on Oct. 1 to mark the beginning of Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Southeastern Health and Biggs Park Mall will hold a Breast Cancer Awareness Walk in the mall on Wednesday from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m.

Worley, who lives in Lumberton, was overcome with fear after she heard her diagnosis.

“I just turned it over to the Lord,” she said. “The doctor said take as much time as you need. I said, ‘I don’t need any time. I’m going to be fine.’”

Worley said the news got worse after surgery the following month to remove the tumor.

“The lump on top was not the lump with cancer,” but was covering the 2.5 centimeter tumor underneath, Worley said. “It wasn’t until I was in surgery that the second one was found.”

More than 232,000 new cases of breast cancer have been diagnosed in the United States this year, with 6,000 of those cases diagnosed in North Carolina. One in every eight American women will develop invasive breast cancer during their lives, according to the American Cancer Society.

In Robeson County, 8 percent of cancer deaths were from breast cancer during 2011, the latest year for which data is available, according to the North Carolina Central Cancer Registry.

Worley said her diagnosis was a surprise.

“I did do self-exams,” she said. “I had just had a mammogram six months prior and they found nothing.”

According to the Susan G. Komen Foundation, women should get a mammogram every one to two years starting at age 40. Risk factors for breast cancer include age, weight and family history.

Worley said she got through the surgery, chemotherapy and radiation “with the help of my family — my husband, my kids, my mother and father.”

Worley said she also relied on her faith.

“If God brought me to it, he’ll bring me through it,” she said. “If you’re a believer, whose report are you going to believe? Like my mom said, it’s mind over matter.”

Today, Worley is cancer-free

“I’m thanking God and living life,” she said. “I’m taking nothing for granted.”

Worley urged women to monitor their health and make every day count.

“Early detection is vital,” she said. “Don’t take anything for granted. Value everything — your friendships, your family, your life. If you have insurance, you can get the first [mammogram] at 35 years old.”

Cancer is a leading cause of death for women 35 to 64 years old, according to the Centers for Disease Control, and screening has been accepted as the best way to protect women’s health. Most insurance companies pay for mammograms because they have proven economical: It’s cheaper to pay for the preventative measure than cancer treatment.

Carter was diagnosed with breast cancer on May 21, 2012. She said in addition to surgery the following month, she had to be treated for an infection and underwent chemotherapy after surgery, which affected her ability to work.

“Sometimes I came here and couldn’t hold my head up,” she said.

Carter said she realized she had an infection when she developed a fever at the dentist’s office. She said she stayed on an IV drip in the hospital for eight days and was attached to a machine that drained her chest for several weeks after she was released. She said she was weak and wheelchair-bound on the first day of school.

“When [my students] first met me I was a survivor, but I was still very wounded,” she said.

Carter said the infection kept her from starting chemotherapy until September 2012, which further sapped her energy.

“I had to be out a lot because I needed chemo every three weeks,” she said. “The school was really good to work with. They let me work half days.”

Chemotherapy consists of drugs used to kill cancer cells, but its side effects include nausea, vomiting, fatigue and hair loss.

When Carter’s hair started falling out, she told her husband to cut it off because she didn’t want patches of scalp showing. That gave one students and idea.

“They made 12 hats,” said Carter, who hangs them on a wall in her classroom. “They said, ‘When you lose your hair and feel like you need something on, put on a hat.’”