Nashville, Tennessee, is a city of community leaders in action. Most of those leaders are women on divinely inspired missions. They are determined to fight for causes that impact not only our city and region, but our country. One of those leaders is Mattie Bates. Mrs. Bates has been a warrior on the battlefield in the fight against cancer. In the Nashville community, she teaches women to take charge of their health and to be strong advocates for cancer awareness. Ms. Bates uses her personal battle with cancer as a catalyst for her mission to educate women to be survivors by early detection.
Mattie is a ten-year breast cancer survivor. She retired from BellSouth after thirty-four years of service and now describes herself as “semi-retired.” She is the coordinator of Davidson County’s Witness Project, the first in Tennessee. The Witness Project is a culturally sensitive breast and cervical cancer outreach effort presented by cancer survivors and lay health advisors to increase awareness, knowledge, and access to screening and early detection among the African American population in an effort to reduce cancer incidence and mortality.
Mrs. Bates’ work with the Witness Project programs is presented in churches and community organizations by Witness Role Models (WRMs) and Lay Health Advisors (LHAs). Witness Role Models are African American women who are breast or cervical cancer survivors. Their presence as survivors is seen as a blessing and proof that cancer is not a death sentence. Lay Health Advisors are not cancer survivors themselves, but are women who want to work with the project to organize and publish programs, network with community people, give facts about breast and cervical cancer and available resources, teach breast self-examinations (BSEs), and encourage preventive services such as mammograms, clinical breast exams (CBEs), pelvic exams, Pap tests, and breast self-exams (BSE).
During a program session, the WRMs witness by talking about their experience with cancer, stressing the importance of early detection and answering questions about their personal experiences, fears, and concerns. The educational session addresses the fears and beliefs many women hold about cancer, demonstrates that the diagnosis of cancer is neither a death sentence nor a punishment. Following a session, LHAs teach BSE using breast models.
Mrs. Bates’ work does not stop with advocacy in churches and the faith-based community. She is seen often at major cancer walks and events, health initiatives, cancer awareness seminars, and survivor celebrations promoting women’s health. The cancer community is a very close-knit community in Nashville, and Mrs. Bates’ work, heart, and determination are known throughout every corner of Davidson County.
In addition to her work with the Witness Project, Mrs. Bates is also a member of the Vanderbilt-Ingram Cancer Center’s Cancer Queens. The Cancer Queens are a group professional educators and cancer survivors who perform A Cancer Prevention Musical Revue. The shows are forty-five minutes of skits and song-and-dance routines set to popular music with new educational lyrics that are consistent with the educational messages of the American Cancer Society, the Centers for Disease Control, and the National Cancer Institute.
The performances inspire women to treat themselves like queens and take care of their health. Audience members laugh and tap their toes while they learn about the importance of breast and cervical cancer screenings and the healthy lifestyle habits that can help reduce the risk of developing certain cancers as well as heart disease, high blood pressure, and diabetes. Since their October 2008 debut, the Cancer Queens have entertained and educated more than 3000 women of all ages in Tennessee and delivered 15,000 individual cancer-prevention and risk-reduction messages. Often attendees leave asking about upcoming dates to bring back family and friends. The impactful performances have sold out quickly. Many come to see Mrs. Bates become her stage persona, Miss Patty! Mrs. Bates said, “Since joining the Witness Project and the Cancer Queens, it has been an interesting journey and I feel that I have embarked on another career—sharing my story to let others know you can be a survivor if cancer is detected early. Being part of the Cancer Queens allows me to share that message.” Mrs. Bates, aka Miss Patty’s biggest fans are her husband and her son and daughter. They are usually on the front row cheering her on!
Mrs. Bates’ work through The Witness Project is made available through a grant from the Greater Nashville Affiliate of the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation to promote breast cancer screening. The Witness Project in collaboration with the Bridges to Care program provides mammograms to clients who do not meet the criteria of the Tennessee Breast and Cervical Screening Program through the Tennessee Department of Health, who are uninsured. Specifically, the program will target 150 Davidson County women age forty to sixty-four that are asymptomatic. The Cancer Queens! A Cancer Musical Revue is funded by Vanderbilt-Ingram Cancer Center.