The year was 1976 and University of Kentucky Cheerleading captain Cathy Bell stood center court leading cheers in front of a roaring crowd during the last UK men’s basketball game played at Memorial Coliseum. Little did she know then that the positive attitude and “can do” spirit she learned as a UK cheerleader would help her beat breast cancer not once, but twice.
Because she has a family history of breast cancer, Cathy began having mammograms at an earlier age than most. During her base- line mammogram at age 39, her doctors discovered an unusual pattern of calcifications, and ultimately a malignant cancerous tumor. Treatment quickly followed – a lumpectomy and radiation. Cathy, then a busy elementary school principal in Fayette County, was mainly concerned about getting back to work.
“I had a school to run and needed to get past that ‘bump in the road’ and return to my duties,” she said.
Cathy’s treatment was a success and for nearly two decades she was cancer free. But in 2013 she noticed an unusual pain under her arm. Another mammogram confirmed the bad news—a new and different form of cancer was growing in her breast.
“At first I was devastated, but then I went into action,” said Cathy. “I spent a great deal of time researching treatment options for this type of breast cancer and that research lead me to Dr. Patrick McGrath at the Markey Cancer Center.” Cathy knew that she could not undergo radiation treatment again so instead she opted for bilateral mastec- tomy with delayed reconstructive surgery.
“Dr. McGrath was just amazing. He met with an entire team of other specialists and nurses to determine my treatment plan,” said Cathy. “The nurses did not even have to look on a chart, they came right in the room, knew my name and exactly what was going on with me. It was as wonderful of an experience as you can hope for when going through breast cancer.”
Cathy’s treatment was successful and she now considers herself a ‘cheerleader’ for other patients battling breast cancer.
“Everything that I’ve done in my life has prepared me for this moment,” said Cathy. “When I was representing UK as a cheerleader, then representing local elementary schools as a principal, I felt it was my duty to be a positive force, to be there to support and motivate others.”
Now retired, Cathy is giving back to others fighting for their lives. She is frequently called upon by friends or family members affected by breast cancer seeking help and understanding for themselves or on behalf of a loved one.
“I spend a great deal of time talking with cancer patients, sharing information, listening to their stories and keeping them focused on getting well,” said Cathy.
Earlier this year, Cathy was dealt a small setback when she was diagnosed with squamous cell carcinoma on her lip. After undergoing Mohs surgery, the former UK cheerleader was back to living her life yet again, staying busy and remaining eternally optimistic.
“I am grateful for my life,” she says. “I feel that my role now is to help others fight, to help them win.”