Breast Cancer Survivor

Patti - Breast Cancer Survivor

My name is Patti and I'm 52 years old. I am social, outgoing, outspoken, a little ornery, kind and loving. I think the ornery part made me a GREAT breast cancer fighter!

I have been married to the man I love for 30 years! We have two adult children, who choose to hang out with us, so I think we did a good job as parents. I also have horses, cats, chickens, and a new dog. Today, my life is kind of awesome.

But in November 2011, a not-so-wonderful thing happened. I got a call I will never forget. My recent mammogram showed an area of concern. The biopsy I had a week later confirmed that I had breast cancer. When the nurse called to talk to me about the results, I jokingly said, "You're going to ruin my cleavage, aren't you?" I'm glad I have a bizarre sense of humor because it helped me so much in the months to come.

Within two hours of that first call, the nicest woman phoned saying she had everything scheduled, like the way travel agents used to do it all for you — one stop shopping. It was so comforting to have someone be so helpful. I did get a second option, but ultimately chose Virginia Mason where my treatment went as smoothly as possible.

That's not to say there weren't challenges. For one thing, a genetic test showed I was positive for the BRCA1 gene mutation. In addition to breast cancer, mutations in the BRCA1 gene also increase the risk of ovarian and fallopian tube cancers.

I was not ready to make the choice for a mastectomy so I talked through my options with my surgeon and went for an aggressive oncoplasty. This is where the breast cancer surgeon removes a lot of breast tissue to ensure the cancer is completely gone, then — during the same surgery — reconstructs the breast. At the same time, a plastic surgeon performs surgery on the other breast to make sure that both breasts are the same size and look good.

In other words, I got a bilateral breast reduction and came out of my cancer with one breast surgery and two beautiful breasts. Other doctors — not at Virginia Mason — told me I would have to have breast cancer surgery and then later a plastic surgeon would try to fix the missing breast to match. Virginia Mason is the only breast cancer program in the region to perform this type of oncoplastic surgery so it was an easy decision for me. I could not afford that much time off work as a private business owner.

A month later I went on to have a total hysterectomy per my choice because of the BRCA1 mutation. Five weeks later, I started bleeding. I kept thinking, "Now what?" Because I had bruised more than normal during my biopsy and surgery, my breast surgeon decided to test me for a bleeding platelet disorder. She discovered that this was what was causing the problem and we resolved it.

I am here three years later cancer free knowing she did a great job. I still miss my triple D bras every now and then, but buying a cute B cup bra is so much easier, so is jogging and horseback riding!

My surgeon and the Virginia Mason team that took care of me were simply the best, their team medicine approach was a comfort. And my family and friends really stepped in to help when I needed them. My best friend Jenny came all the way from California and slept in my room for both my surgeries.

I had several breast cancer survivor friends who helped me understand what I was feeling. They are the reason I now go out and help other women who are facing this for the first time. My own kids and my daycare families cooked and cleaned and made sure my day-care business stayed open without a hitch.

More than three years later, I'm healthy and cancer free. But my life is definitely different because of cancer. For one thing, I realized I was not living to my full potential. I got that horse farm I always wanted and I fell in love all over again with my husband.

There were hard parts, but for me, the hardest was some people's reactions. I lost a few so-called friends, you know the ones who I was there to support, but could not see me sad or not fun. I miss them at times, but count myself lucky because I found out who was a real friend and who was not.

I know that the reality of my life today is that the BRCA1 gene mutation is in my family and can affect my children, siblings, nieces, nephews and any grandkids I might have. So now I'm a fighter for all of us. I participate in fundraisers for breast cancer research and I visit with and help women who are facing the same things I've faced.

The best thing about my life today is that I'm living it to the fullest. I think the next update from me will be about my daughter's beautiful wedding or maybe even grandbabies. I plan to be around for a very long time!