Bell beats breast cancer, twice

Emily M. Hobbs Staff Writer

October 11, 2013

Second in a series

Andrea Bell is a vivacious woman of God who has had her share of trials and has become a strong fighter for both herself and for her family. She is a teacher of exceptional children at Roseboro-Salemburg Middle school, and she spent part of her childhood in Roseboro.

“My life is complicated,” Bell said during a recent interview. “Just like the breast cancer was.” After a rough divorce rife with strife and frustrations, she finally settled back in Roseboro after traveling between North Carolina and Washington, D.C. She has taught for over 22 years, and is an excellent example of surviving and reviving — for her health, her family, and her life.

Her grandmother, who is in her 90s, is also a retired EC teacher and she had to have a mastectomy after a fight with breast cancer. Her grandmother’s daughter, her aunt, also had breast cancer as well.

During her separation from her now former husband, Bell had many transitions at home dealing with the pending divorce and relocating which caused her to end up missing two years worth of physicals. Finally, in 2011, she was caught up enough to get an appointment scheduled with her OBGYN and to have a mammogram.

Right after the results came back, she immediately received a phone call from her doctor’s office. The doctor said the mammogram did not come out clear and that the office wanted her to come back in and have another one done. She agreed. That test showed a lump, and doctor scheduled a biopsy on the lump that was found in her left breast for Dec. 26, the day after Christmas.

Meanwhile, in the background, God, she said, was working his wonders for Bell’s life. She was chosen as the Sampson County Teacher of the Year for 2011-12.

“God was preparing me and giving me hope,” she said. “I didn’t know what was going on.”

Bell went in to have that biopsy done to check and see the status of the mass. She said it was very traumatic for her.

“It felt like it was barbaric and inhumane,” she said in an interview Monday. Bell said the stabbing sensation was extremely painful for her. Despite the pain, she said she would have done the test anyway.

The test came back positive. Bell picked a surgeon and scheduled her surgery for Feb. 6, 2012. After the surgery, the diagnosis was finally made — ductal carcinoma cancer. This meant Bell had breast cancer in the milk ducts of her left breast. She then went back into the doctor’s office, post surgery, to get a clearance for radiation and was waiting for the doctor in her room for over an hour. She usually did not have to wait so this, she said, was making her more and more anxious by the minute. Finally the doctor came in her room and told her why she had been waiting. He was busy consulting with the radiologist and other medical personnel trying to figure out her situation. He told her the bad news. There was another lump in the same breast.

“All I wanted to know was why didn’t they take it out,” said Bell. The doctor told her there was a lump so she couldn’t do radiation at this time.

“I couldn’t believe what I was hearing,” she said. “I was in a fog with so many questions. Why did they they do that? Why did they leave a lump?” She never has quite managed to get all the answers she would have liked.

Right at the time that she was diagnosed, Bell had a co-worker whose mother was diagnosed a week after she was. Her co-worker was a great source of compassion, empathy, and sympathy, Bell stressed.

“She was just there for me,” Bell said. “God was so instrumental at this time in my life.” Her co-worker told her about her mother’s doctor and she transfered over to his office in Raleigh. This new doctor did a new biopsy on Bell, and this one was painless and quick. The test was positive and the doctor wanted her to go and have genetic testing done as well. The genetic testing came back negative. Now she had to schedule more surgery and figure out her next steps. The doctor told her that there was no more room to do more surgery on the left breast, so she was going to have to have the the breast removed. She opted to have both of them removed in March of 2012. That surgery was successful but it put her in a dilemma with her job as a teacher. She ended up having to be off work from April 2012 until the next school year started in August.

Her wonderful co-workers, she said, really stepped up to help her out, donating leave so she could continue to be at home while being out sick. She said she really appreciated the kindness everyone showed to her in the school system while dealing with this cancer.

Next Bell scheduled with a plastic surgeon for breast implants. She didn’t know if she would remarry one day and thought that not having breasts may be distracting for some of the students. She did not want that to happen, so she had them replaced.

“It gave me a little sense of comfort in having that done,” she said. During the time of having the implants put in she had a few setbacks, including problems with the temporary spacers and infection. Those spacers were horrible and caused her to have an infection that ran all down the right side of her body. They were extremely painful for her and finally the doctor’s office managed to get the situation straightened out. The doctor completed the implants and did not charge her for them because of all the complications that she had to deal with; however, she did still incur charges from the hospital at that time.

“I stayed positive and upbeat,” she said. Cancer runs and bike rides were completed to help with some of her expenses.

“The outpouring of love has been phenomenal,” Bell asserted. She said her faith is what sustained her the entire time.

“I told my pastor that I am going to be fine whether I die here on earth or go on to heaven,” she said. “Either way, I will be fine.” She has been a local preacher at St. Thomas AME Church in Roseboro for four years and has been ministering since 2001. She feels like she is on a mission.

“I want to be a voice for change and to help someone on the way,” she said. “I felt like Job in a way during all this. God was preparing me to go higher in Him and build my faith.” She considers her recovery one of her biggest triumphs.

“Thank God that I have recovered,” Bell said. “I am glad that the cancer was caught at the beginning stage before it escalated out of control.”

“We need to be proactive about our health as women,” she said. “You cannot wait for the right time, moment, or season. Your health is your responsibility, and you have to take matters into your own hands in regards to your health. If not, it may be too late. You only have one life on this earth.”

“I want to live to see my children and my children’s children. I want to live a fruitful and blessed life. Taking care your body is part of that,” Bell said. “We should never be too busy to take care of ourselves.”

Bell has two children and lives in Roseboro. She has been teaching for over 22 years and is content to be settled back home in North Carolina.