Bette Carter learned some pretty unique lessons from her battle with cancer. For instance: You don’t have to sleep with frogs.
Q: This weekend, Raleigh hosted the annual Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure, which is the nation’s largest fundraising event for cancer research. This time of year brings back heart-warming memories for you. Explain that.
A: In September of 2011, I was diagnosed with Stage IV breast cancer. The following year, we developed a team and a lot of the teachers, students, and staff at my school (East Wake Academy) got involved, along with a lot of people from my church (Longview Baptist). Our team name was Bette’s Breast Friends. Everyone bought shirts and we had a lot of people turn out for the Race for the Cure. We raised approximately $6,000, and we ended up being one of the top 10 fundraisers that year. To see everyone so supportive was a great experience.
Q: So after almost three years of treatment, are you cancer free?
A: You are never really cancer free. I have metastatic breast cancer, which means it can travel. Mine had spread to the bone. With that kind of cancer, it can eventually pop up somewhere, you just don’t know where. So when you have scans and they come back that no cancer was found, that can also mean no cancer was detected on the scan – it can still be there. I didn’t have chemo or radiation, which you can sometimes avoid if the cancer has not spread to a vital organ. I was able to treat mine with hormone therapy. So far, my scans have been stable. I just have to keep checking.
Q: And that experience inspired you to pay-it-forward, so to speak?
A: Yes, last October, my church announced they were taking a mission trip to Honduras. I like to think I am the kind of person who likes to help others and I try to do that here but I had never really experienced that somewhere else. I knew right then I wanted to go. I had no idea how I would do it – I hadn’t figured out taking time off from work, or who would watch my daughters – I just knew this was something I was going to do. I even signed up my husband to go with me without even talking to him first. There were so many obstacles in going. I couldn’t find any of our birth certificates. None of them. My husband was born in Germany so that made it hard. It eventually all came together and we went. It is something I would like to do again.
Q: You are a high school teacher who works with exceptional children. That can be such a challenging profession. What made you want to follow that career path?
A: I knew I wanted to be a teacher when I was attending Enloe. In my junior and senior years, I was able to assist in classes with students that had Autism Spectrum Disorder. I was learning a lot about special education and the different labels that existed. The teachers in those classrooms had received training in TEACCH (a program specifically designed to help educators reach students with autism). I just like the way they taught the class – they didn’t try to change the child but were able to meet the student where they were. They knew what worked best for those students, such as structure, scheduling, for example. When I graduated high school, I wanted to go to East Carolina University and major in autism but that was unheard of at the time and my major was mental retardation education. When I graduated and I went to work for Wake County schools, they sent me to TEACCH training. My first job was at Lockhart Elementary. At the time, over 20 years ago, there were not that many classes with autistic children. At Lockhart, I was in a BED class (Behaviorally and Emotionally Disturbed). I was there for a while until Wake County schools transferred me to Millbrook Elementary. By then, the definition of autism was becoming more well-known and you had students, who had not been diagnosed before, beginning to be diagnosed. Eventually, students were diagnosed with Aspergers, which means their’s is more of a social issue and not an education issue. Eventually, I was assigned to Southeast Raleigh High, where they were piloting a program that is similar to what we have here – putting the students in the regular class settings, but also having support from EC teachers who come into the classrooms. We have come a long way in trying to mainstream students.
Q: I have often heard from those who battle cancer that, ironically, it changed their life for the better. How do you feel about that statement?
A: I agree. I don’t sleep with frogs anymore.
Q: Explain please.
A: In the Bible, when God sent the plagues on the Egyptians and the Pharaoh in an attempt to convince him to release the Israelites from slavery, one of the plagues sent was frogs. The frogs were everywhere – in their houses, in their kitchens, where they slept. It made the Egyptians miserable. We all have ‘frogs’ in our lives, whether it is bitterness, self-pity, depression, not being able to forgive, whatever it may be. You have to let those go. ‘Tomorrow’ is one of the worst words in the English language. ‘Today’ is what we have. Today is the day that the Lord has made – we need to rejoice and be glad in that. And we need to let go of our frogs.
Correspondent Dena Coward