As November falls, breast awareness month comes to a close. Pink ribbons are tucked away until the next October, businesses stop promoting the cause and daily lives are continued. While to some this is the only reminder of breast cancer, for others who have friends, family or themselves with diagnosis, live with it every day. Patty is one of these people.
It was a winter night in February; she cuddled in bed with her husband, enjoying mild nightly chatter. During their small talk, Patty mentioned to Matt of a pea sized lump in her breast.
“It was so small you couldn’t feel it when I was laying down, only when I was sitting up,” Patty informs me.
While the foreign object caused curiosity, the need to see a doctor did not exist. “It is most likely a calcium deposit.” She thought while attempting to sway Matt with her opinion.
However, Matt was not in agreement.
“Wouldn’t it be better to have it checked out and know for sure it is nothing, rather than to keep wondering…” he reasoned.
Though breast cancer never ran through the family genes, Patty couldn’t deny the sense he made. Worried that the insurance would not cover the testing, since she was shy a few months of forty, hesitation hit. After more pressure from Matt, they assessed her options, eventually compromising. Patty had her first monogram, ever.
It was April 5th, the day after celebrating her 18th anniversary; Patty was diagnosed with Stage one breast cancer in her left breast. Adding to the weight of the news, stage zero cancer was discovered in the right breast.
There is no easy way to process the results. Her stomach, feeling as she is punched in the gut, head spinning, as if the world has phased into a nightmare… she couldn’t wake from. Her supporting husband processes the information with her. Side by side, they figure out the next steps.
One way to help Patty grip the reality was to reveal the devastating discovery to close family and friends. She began calling everyone she could think of, but the hardest call was to her brother, Jack. “It was the first time I ever heard him cry,” she discloses, “And then he kept telling me ‘You are going to beat this, Patty. You are going to beat this…’”
Once Patty began to process the realism of her situation, it was time for her and Matt to sit down with the kids. Mother of eleven year old triplets, she had to reveal the difficulties that were ahead. “They had different reactions,” she explains, “Two of them starting crying but one stood up hugging her.” She continued explaining the confidence of the children. They powered together on how she was going to fight and win. Patty loaded their evening with WWE Susan G. Koman survivor stories. “See, one day I will be telling my story of survival.”
As Patty began chemo she felt less like herself. Her body became weak, tired, and eating was a chore. “It felt like I had the flu,” she explains to me, “I would get so hungry but then I’d take one or two bites and feel nauseous; couldn’t eat.”
The support from her family, friends and church was an unexpected relief. Everyday someone was showing up with food. The church would give her gift cards for restaurants, understanding she didn’t have the strength to cook. Daily task like cleaning, laundry, and bathing sucked energy she barely had.
“If people ask you if you need help, let them help.” She advises, “It felt weird at first. But create your support system.”
Already a church goer, lots of prayers after diagnosis, her faith was shaken after the unthinkable. It was a hot summer evening in July, Patty was on round five of chemo and the kids were getting ready for bed. Her daughter, hearing an unusual noise in the bathroom, rushed in; finding her dad on the floor unresponsive. The EMTs could not revive him and Matt was announced gone on July 23rd, 2016.
Patty couldn’t wrap her head around why God would take him. “Why him and not me?” she confesses, “I was fighting cancer, stage five treatments. It didn’t make sense why God would take him…”
A week after his passing, Patty shares this heartfelt message to Matt:
“My dearest Matt, It's been over a week since you've left this earth and gone to heaven with your dad and Kyle and so many others. I've been trying to figure out why this has happened to you. I miss you so much it makes me ache. I miss your laugh. I miss lying on your chest to feel your heartbeat. I miss when you would grab my hand. I miss how you would tease the kids and have them cracking up! I miss the text messages you would send me just to say," I love you and miss you". I miss everything about you and as I watch our kids grow up, I'm going to see some resemblance everyday of you through them. I love you so much and I miss you more than you'll ever know. Until I see you in heaven, I'm going to take care of our kids the best way I can. I love you honey!”
Since Matt was gone, she had to rely heavily on the children for support. The added guilt ate at her, but the kids never complained. They helped her up the stairs, into the shower, and chores around the house.
“The kids did a lot.” She remembers.
“One time I fainted in the shower,” her eyes shift as she recalls the details, “I was sitting on a chair in the shower. My daughter found me. I thought maybe I fell asleep, but she said I had fallen over onto the floor.”
There were some evenings she was too exhausted to attempt the stairs, and would sleep on the couch. The steps were her biggest physical challenge. The small porch step into the home, the massive, carpeted staircase leading to her bedroom… the stairs became a constant reminder of how weak she now was.
“The chemo made me so sick.” Patty sighs. Her lips then turn upward to a slight grin as a new thought presents itself, “You know,” she smirks, “I always used those stairs at a metaphor. ‘One step at a time; Climbing to the top’.”
After a long year and fight, Patty is announced as ‘cancer free.’ “Anyone who has been diagnosed with breast should never skip appointments,” she warns, “Always go to your follow up appointments.”
If you ever find a lump she stands by Matt’s advice. “Get it checked out right away; No matter what. Even if you think it is nothing. It is better to know than to wonder.”
Patty, now working full-time to support the family, is gaining all her strength back. “I say to the kids all the time, remember when I couldn’t get up that one step into the house?”
Life is finding normal the best it can, without her husband. Her positive outlook is inspiring and bravery is encouraging. We all have little bumps in life that sometimes feel like mountains. When I have these bumps I think of Patty and other women who have fought cancer. These women have hurdled my mountains.
Fight Like A Girl,
Fight Like A Girl,
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