Patricia Ray Carter’s life was going well.

She was a working mother of two young boys, a dedicated wife and active in her community.

In April 1991, she felt a lump.

Following tests and a mammogram, doctors diagnosed Carter with Stage 3 breast cancer.

“I was in a state of shock,” Carter said.

Twenty-three years later, Carter is a survivor and an advocate of Breast Cancer Awareness Month, which kicks off Oct. 1.

About one in eight women in the United States will develop breast cancer in their lifetime, according to the American Cancer Society.

“There was a point where I beat it and I wanted to be a source of encouragement for someone else,” Carter said.

Carter had a mastectomy in her left breast.

“I was devastated and I cried. It was a part of my body that was gone and it wasn’t coming back,” she recalled. “That was difficult.”

It didn’t end there.

Chemotherapy treatments lasted six months, followed by several months of radiation. Her hair fell out in clumps, and she often felt exhausted.

“It was a difficult time. I had children I couldn’t care for. My 3-year-old would come to me and say ‘hold me’ and couldn’t because I was in a lot of pain,” she said.

Carter’s story is a reminder to all women about the importance of a breast self-exam, a simple check-up that Carter made while taking her shower.

Radiation oncologist Dr. Renee Levine urges her patients to talk with other women about mammograms and breast self-exams.

“Ultimately, if you catch breast cancer early, your chances of survival are excellent,” Levine said.

Genetic testing is also important, Levine said. Testing for BRCA1 and BRCA2 — harmful gene mutations that greatly increase the risk of breast and ovarian cancer — is worth considering.

I had genetic testing last spring. My aunt died from breast cancer and her sister survived it following a double mastectomy. My doctor felt like it was a good idea for me to take it based on my family history.

My test results were negative, and I felt relieved.

But Levine still cautions women. There are still other genes that genetic tests do not pick up, she said. Carter said she had no history of breast cancer in her family.

Though Carter’s journey was a difficult one, she says it also made her stronger and more thankful. “Before I had cancer, I’d make plans and say we’ll do this or that at some time or another. Now, I say, ‘how about now or next week,’ because life is so unexpected.”

Carter’s life is going well.“You can live a normal life,” she said. “God allowed it to happen to me for a reason.”

Chante Dionne Warren is a freelance writer. She can be reached at chantewriter@hotmail.com.