"Early detection is the key"
Marian Baer was 29 years old and pregnant with her second child when she found a lump in her breast.
She immediately called her obstetrician, who sent her to a surgeon.
"The next thing I knew, I was on an operating table," said Baer, now 65, of Hickory.
Baer said her surgery was "very extensive," and doctors told her she would probably miscarry from the after-effects of the operation and anesthesia.
But she didn't. Her son was born, and because Baer's cancer was detected early and her lymphnodes tested cancer-free, she wasn't required to have any follow-up chemotherapy or radiation after her surgery.
"We (moved) along for the next few years," she said.
Baer's cancer came back about four years later in 1978, shortly after she and her family moved to Hickory.
She found a lump under her collarbone, and doctors could only partially remove the cancer because of its proximity to major arteries.
Doctors at Catawba Valley Medical Center, which was Catawba Memorial Hospital at the time, treated Baer with 33 rounds of radiations, as well as chemotherapy.
"The most important things in your life, like your spiritual growth, your family and friends, really become forefront (when you have cancer)," Baer said. "They have always been there and supported me."
Baer completed her treatments with the help of her husband, her two sons and a supportive group of extended family and friends. She's been cancer-free since.
Now a cancer survivor for 36 years, Baer educates women about the importance of early detection and breast cancer awareness.
Breast cancer is no longer present in her body, but helping other women fight the disease is part of Baer's spirit.
"To be able to comment with someone who has had a similar experience - it's very important," she said. "It's a gift to me. It helps me share. When I speak (with a breast cancer) patient, I'm the one who leaves feeling blessed."
Baer is a charter member of the Catawba County Breast Cancer Coalition, which promotes breast cancer awareness and education. She also participates in Reach to Recovery, which is a support group for men and women recently diagnosed with breast cancer.
And when she tells women about the life-saving abilities of breast self-exams and mammograms, she speaks from first-hand experience.
"I'm a prime example of the value of early detection," she said. "I understand the fear (of getting a mammogram) because I think part of us doesn't ever like to get bad news. ... I think the important thing is to know that early detection is the key."
Baer encourages everyone not to delay when it comes to breast health and to utilize all the programs the county offers.
"We're just so blessed (in Catawba County)," she said. "We have fabulous resources for anyone."