Bettye Washington

Bettye Washington, a volunteer in Harris Health System’s Patient Experience Department, knows the moment she developed breast cancer. “It was September 2008,” she remembers. “I sat up in bed at 3 a.m. and knew a lump had entered my breast.

“I started a new job, and my insurance was not in effect yet. So I didn’t go to the doctor right-away because I didn’t want it to appear as a pre-existing condition.”

Bettye was so sure of the cancer that she saw a surgeon rather than a primary care physician. She had a mammogram and ultrasound, and then a week later a mastectomy of her left breast. Chemotherapy, radiation and the drug Herceptin followed.

She never took time off from her job. “I was working in a drug treatment center helping young women change their lives. I thought I had to take care of my girls. During the chemo, I was always tired, but never gave in.”

Instead, she started each day with James Brown’s music and watched a lot of I Love Lucy for the sheer pleasure of laughter. She clung to a quote by Christopher Reeves: “Think about your bad days as good days in disguise.” If it worked for “Superman,” surely it would work for her too.

“My grandmother died of breast cancer. I visited her grave and prayed for God to show me a glimpse of Himself. A white light covered everything, and I realized that was God’s presence. Since that day, I have never feared anything. I can go through anything. I never questioned that I would be healed.

“I’m so independent. I didn’t want anyone hovering, and absolutely no pity. But my cancer taught me to share my time, to love and laugh more. Now I have more compassion for others. I’m more approachable.”

She also became more adventurous. She recently toured the Grand Canyon from a small aircraft. That would never have happened before her cancer.

Bettye encourages other cancer patients not to be as independent as she thought she had to be. “Stay connected to your family and friends. Don’t push anyone away. I should have leaned on others more. Accept help — it helps the other person too. And listen to your body. Don’t ignore your intuition.”

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