BRAvo dancer profile: Debbie Norris and Dr. Neal Bhatt

Patient Stories, Topics
"I crumbled into a thousand little pieces right there on the kitchen floor." Dr. Neal Bhatt and Debbie Norris

A breast cancer diagnosis was one of the last things on Debbie's mind. An avid fitness enthusiast, Debbie took several exercise classes each week, kept to a healthy diet, stayed active and had no family history of the disease.

She had been awaiting biopsy results, but when her physician husband came home early one day with tears in his eyes, she just knew.

"As soon as I heard the garage door open in the middle of the day, I knew," she said. "It was 1:14 in the afternoon. He never comes home that early."

Debbie was devastated.

"I was really really crying," she said. "Tears were flowing down my cheek and I was wailing so loud it was hard to catch my breath. I thought I was healthy."

She first felt the lump during a self-examinations, which she performs every month without fail. After an appointment with her OB/GYN, Dr. Mimi Chen, Debbie's lump was located with a 3D mammogram and ultrasound and the presence of cancer was confirmed by the biopsy.

"I fell apart," she said. "I want to live to be in my 90s. I want to live to see to see my children get married and I want to see my children's children."

Any re-assurance she had with her diagnosis came with the fact that her cancer was in an early stage and very small.

Debbie underwent a lumpectomy by Dr. Stephen Cahill and 30 days of radiation under the care of oncologist Dr. Andrew Knechtl and radiation oncologist Dr. Arthur Frazier.

She could not have made it through her treatment without the love and support of her husband, family and friends and was grateful for the level of care and comfort she received at the Karmanos Cancer Institute at McLaren Macomb. And with her clean bill of health, she went about her new mission.

So many women told her they never-or very rarely-performed self-examinations and neglected their annual mammograms.

"I really felt it in my heart to share my breast cancer experience and help other women," she said.

She first started speaking to her exercise classes and then her church groups, sharing her story and leaving them with pamphlets, guidelines for self-examinations and encouragement to get 3D mammograms and visit their physician annually.

"This early detection will help save lives," she said.

Radiation oncologist Dr. Neal Bhatt, Debbie's BRAvo dancing partner, shares a similar motivation as it was his grandmother's breast cancer and grandfather's neck and head cancer that played a part in pushing him toward oncology.

A supporter of BRAvo and its mission since he first began practicing at the Karmanos Cancer Institute at McLaren Macomb, he admitted hesitancy when first asked to dance.

But it was ultimately an easy decision.

"BRAvo is a great way to bring awareness to the importance of screening mammography and a celebration for our patients who have completed therapy," he said. "It certainly makes me feel connected to our patients on a new level and makes me feel privileged to be a part of the program."

To learn more about cancer care at the Karmanos Cancer Institute at McLaren Macomb, visit

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BRAvo 2017
Mammograms are The Girls' Best Friend

5 p.m., Tues., Oct. 17
New location! The Palazzo Grande in Shelby Township