Mattie Bates: Cancer Survivor and Community Role Model


Nashville 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 battle field 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 34 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 are 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 (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 base community. She is seen often at major cancer walks and events, health initiatives, cancer awareness seminars, and survivor celebrations promoting women health. The cancer community is a very close nit 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 45 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 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” 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.

For more information about volunteering as team member or to schedule a program with the Witness Project, Mrs. Mattie Bates can be reached at (615) 340-5680. To schedule a performance with Vanderbilt’s Cancer Queens you can contact Jennifer Murray at or visit or

Photo Credits: Vanderbilt Ingram Cancer Center and Mrs. Mattie Bates.
Cancer Queens
Mattie Bates in the community
Genma Holmes, Mattie Bates, and Navinta Gunter



In order to comment on, you'll need to be logged in. You'll be given the option to log in or create an account when you publish your comment. If you do not log in or create an account, your comment will not be displayed.