Survivor Stories 2014:
1. How did you first find out you had cancer?
My doctor called me at 9pm, Thursday, October 4th, 2012. I had called his office earlier that day because I was sure the biopsy I had the day before was negative and I wanted confirmation. I NEVER thought I would get cancer.
2. How did you react when you heard the news?
I was in shock which quickly turned to anger. I’m a nurse and I just couldn’t understand what he was saying. I made him spell out “invasive” which makes me laugh, now.
3. What course of treatment were you prescribed?
Lumpectomy surgery, a port-a-cath, 6 rounds of chemotherapy, 37 radiation treatments, a year of intravenous targeted therapy (herceptin- which is like “light” chemo) and oral tamoxifen.
4. What most surprised you about your treatment?
My reaction to becoming bald. I let it get in the way of staying intimate with my husband. I was also surprised by the amount of support we, as a family, received from family and friends. I did not truly appreciate how much we were loved before my diagnosis.
5. What would your advice be to anyone who’s just received a cancer diagnosis?
Take your time to find a medical team you can trust. I based my initial team on convenience and it was a huge mistake. I deserved a compassionate team.
Get a notebook to keep your records, it’s a very busy disease. Join a support group.
Be positive you’ll beat it, eventually, but don’t put it on yourself to be positive all the time or on stage for others. It’s a tough disease emotionally.
But most importantly, find a focus. This can be anything that lets you get away from the 24/7 nature of cancer, and let’s you be you. Live your life, do not live cancer.
6. How long have you been cancer free?
November 7th, 2013 was my last treatment for cancer, excluding the ongoing tamoxifen.
7. What lessons did you learn from the experience?
A valuable lesson to be more mindful, more present with who I am with and where I am at the moment.
I learned to stop the anger and embrace my cancer and the changes it irrevocably changed in me. I can’t change what happened but I can accept. I became a better person, and not a bitter one.
I also learned I am a strong woman. I continued to hike mountains throughout my treatments. I was a hiker before, and I am still hiking.
8. If you could send one message to all the Good Enough Mothers out there – what would it be?
You will get though this. You are stronger than you think.
My name is Patti McCarthy. I had wanted to start hiking the Pacific Crest Trail for many years. The trail is a 2659 mile trail from Mexico to Canada. My husband and I finally started doing sections of the PCT in May of 2012. The following September, we celebrated our 25th wedding anniversary with a five day backpacking section. Our three children were all doing great in college. I had just won the top award at my job as a nurse. I couldn’t have been healthier, happier or more successful in my life.
That October 4th, I was informed I had invasive breast cancer. One pathology report said it was invasive ductal, another said invasive lobular. The tumor was ER, PR and HER 2 +, stage 1. Either way, it was invasive requiring every form of treatment. In spite of all the testing beforehand, in the tissue taken with surgery, a second tumor, DCIS, was also found, as well as abnormal cells in the lobes giving me an additional diagnosis or LCIS.
My focus during treatment was to continue to hike the PCT. We hiked 122 mountain miles before I was diagnosed. In between surgery, chemo, and radiation treatments, my husband and I continued to hike, an additional 245 miles. We have also written a book together called Hiking Cancer, available on Amazon. The book is a combination of my journal, with all its emotions, our hiking blog entries, and essays about what it was like to go through cancer treatments.