Patricia, a 56-year-old single mom, beat the odds and survived breast cancer. But, just seven years later in June of 2012 the former Make-A-Wish CEO faced the battle again after discovering the cancer had returned and spread to her hipbones, lungs and vertebrae.
Never one to take life sitting down, Patricia focused on her future and the two most important things: encouraging other women with cancer or other incurable diseases to be their own health advocate and seeing her daughter get married.
Mother of the bride
The dreadful diagnosis Patricia received that fateful June day is enough to knock anyone down. But, sticking to her core values she prayed and faced her life head on. “We’re all terminal in one way or another,” says Patricia. “So it’s important to live for today because whatever will be, will be.”
Despite finding out she had stage IV cancer Patricia started making plans and creating dreams. “One of the most important prayers for me was to see my daughter, Amanda, get married,” she says. “I wanted to be sure she would be taken care of after I was gone.”
Her prayers were answered and less than two years later Patricia was walking Amanda down the aisle in an Old English-style reception in Arkansas. “When I handed her over to Scott, I felt at peace,” says Patricia. “For that special day I didn’t even think about cancer.” This dream come true is indicative of Patricia’s ability to find hope, strength and joy as she lives a lifestyle that includes cancer.
Cancer doesn’t define you
We often define ourselves by our careers, our socio-economic status or place in a family. The same is true when one is diagnosed with a disease. It’s easy for a disease to become an identity, which is exactly what Patricia hopes to avoid.
On her daughter’s wedding day she wasn’t a cancer patient; she was a happy mother witnessing her prayers being answered. “I’m enthusiastic, look good and am happy,” she says. “And oh yeah I have cancer too.” Being happy is a choice, according to Patricia, and you can stay in a negative head space or embrace life and enjoy the ride. Whether you’re young or old, Patricia is sure to ask you, “What are you going to do with your life?”
Once the self-imposed barriers of what we’re supposed to be doing are removed, life begins to open up even when it seems to be shutting down. “I am still making a difference to those around me as an advocate for AdvancedBreastCancerCommunity.org,” says Patricia. “And I’ve also poured all of my passion for my life into Amanda who will continue the legacy. All that’s left is to keep experiencing and creating memories.”
Confidently living a life with no regrets, Patricia hopes to leave some lessons to live by. “First, it needs to be known that advanced stage cancer is very different and the way you live and prepare is different,” she says. Having future ambitions doesn’t mean ignoring the realities of a situation. She encourages people to get personal matters organized, but still live a charmed life. Being aware of your body and familial requirements in a critical situation are imperative to healing even if one can’t be cured.
Secondly, the essence of Patricia’s spirit and passion for life goes hand in hand with her activism for being one’s own health advocate. “Get second opinions, do your research and ask questions,” she says. After receiving her diagnosis Patricia knew something was off and wanted to see a new doctor. She spent six hours calling in favors to see the best doctor available. It’s up to you to take the necessary steps toward finding the best health care.
Lastly, and above all, Patricia wants people to always live and enjoy life. “Cancer can’t steal joy,” she says. “My daughter and I don’t do meltdowns well, so we focus on the blessings in life. I’ve been so blessed with family and experiences, and watching my daughter get married was icing on the cake.”
It’s important to continue creating memories and not let cancer become a diagnosis of doom. Cancer can be part of the conversation without becoming upsetting. “I would love to have a grandchild, but my daughter told me she’s not having a baby based on me having cancer,” says Patricia. “It’s important to laugh at something that can seem so sad.”
By focusing on the joy and continuing to look toward the future it’s easier to feel both at peace and energized. “I’ve been a good mother and made a difference,” says Patricia. “I live a great life and my job is done.”
AdvancedBreastCancerCommunity.org is an online community for the advanced breast cancer community and provides tons of info on the disease and tips for living life to the fullest.