By Josh Jarman
How do you feel when you learn that someone close to you has been diagnosed with cancer? Most of us are flooded with empathy and a desire to help, but do not know where to start or what to expect. Fortunately, Seby B. Jones Regional Cancer Center located in Boone, NC, serves as a refuge for individuals diagnosed with cancer. Bettie Bond is one of those individuals who found joy and beauty in all circumstances, even breast cancer.
An idea shared between young doctors serving as medics during World War II led Bettie’s father, Dr. Robert Bateman, and his colleagues to open a clinic in Somerset, Kentucky after the war. Dr. Bateman would marry, have four children, and go on to serve as Somerset and Danville’s adored “baby doctor” (OB-GYN) for many years.
As a child, Bettie enjoyed weekend trips with her siblings to the movie theatre in downtown Somerset. “Mother would give each of us a quarter, which was enough to purchase a movie ticket, a bag of popcorn and a Sugar Daddy candy bar. We had a blast and I lost all of my baby teeth to that Sugar Daddy! I know it also gave my mother a much needed break.”
Unfortunately, Bettie’s mother died from ovarian cancer in 1984. Bettie can still remember hearing her mother cry out in pain on the day of her death; a memory that still haunts her to this day.
The pursuit of higher education eventually led Bettie and her husband, John, to start their academic careers together at Appalachian State University in 1971. For 25 years, John taught as a professor of mycology and she taught history. The couple quickly fell in love with the High Country and today they remain active in community projects.
In May 2015, Bettie and her good friend Mary made their annual “shopping and mammogram” trip to Winston Salem, NC. “Although we both know that we can get our mammograms done in Boone, being able to go off the mountain to shop has made this annual screening something we have come to look forward to doing together. However, that year was different, that year I was diagnosed with breast cancer.”
As the nurse began to outline treatment options available in Winston Salem, Bettie fought back memories of her mother’s painful chemotherapy treatments.
“No,” she said, while politely interrupting the nurse. “I appreciate your help, but I would like to take care of this at home. The nurse flashed an understanding smile and said, ‘well of course, you have a great hospital and cancer center in Boone.’”
The nurse transferred Bettie’s medical records to her physician at the Davant Medical Clinic in Blowing Rock, NC. Dr. Palmer confirmed the results and suggested that she meet with a specialist, Dr. Paul Dagher, at Watauga Surgical Group in Boone, NC.
After reviewing her case at Watauga Medical Center’s weekly tumor board meeting, Dr. Dagher recommended surgery, followed by chemotherapy at Seby B. Jones Regional Cancer Center.
“I have to be honest, there was nothing to my surgery,” she said with a grin. “I only had to spend one night in the hospital and I felt no pain afterward.”
A few weeks later, Bettie started her chemotherapy treatments at the Cancer Center or as she likes to refer to it, “the Spa.”
“They pamper you,” she said, referring to the nurses and volunteers in the infusion room. “All I had to do was sit back in the treatment chair and catch up on my New Yorker. From there, the nurses hooked me up for treatment, covered me with a warm blanket and brought me lunch. The best part was that I never had a sick day as a result of chemotherapy. I credit that in large part to my meticulous Medical Oncologist, Dr. Anna Sobol.”
According to Bettie, the hardest part of the whole treatment process was losing her hair. To help patients and their families cope with the emotional and physical toll of treatment or post-treatment, the Cancer Center offers a wide variety of classes for cancer survivors including the Radiance program, yoga, nutrition, lymphedema prevention and management, meditation, and a walking group.
One day, Bettie took part in a Radiance class by accident. “I just thought I had walked into a party,” she joked. “I remember meeting a handful of delightfully brave women, who were all losing their hair, eyebrows or fingernails as a result of treatment. Angie Shoemake, the Cancer Center’s social worker, brought in a ton of war paint [makeup] for us to learn how to address the cosmetic side effects of chemotherapy.”
The Radiance program is led by licensed estheticians and cosmetologists who volunteer their time to provide skin therapy, makeup tips and head coverings from the Cancer Center’s wig boutique. Assisting women to cope with the physical side effects of cancer treatments was originally an American Cancer Society initiative started more than 25 years ago. The Cancer Center’s localized adaptation, Radiance, has restored courage, beauty and dignity for hundreds of High Country cancer survivors.
“Angie taught me a lot more than just how to tie a turban around my head,” said Bettie. “She invited me into a special space reserved for women who know just what I am going through. And let me tell you something else, these women are fun. We laughed and cried and laughed some more. This wonderful group of ladies could find joy and beauty in everything.”
In spring of 2017, after her surgery and six months of chemotherapy, Bettie was considered cancer free.
“I am so appreciative for this hospital, this cancer center and most importantly modern medicine,” she said. “When I think about my mother and how far healthcare has come since her passing, I truly believe modern medicine is what saved my life.”