Hiking Cancer

Each year, I do what I am suppose to do: I get my pap test, my cholesterol, ears and eyes checked. Every year I get a mammogram. Every year I never worry.

I am at a pinnacle of my life. I received a prestigious award in my job. I have three adult children in college all doing very well.  Lynn and I just celebrated 25-years of marriage. I am hiking the PCT and I have never felt healthier or happier in my life.

But, in October, suddenly, a big bus called cancer hit me.

I didn’t feel the lump. This year’s annual mammogram was done digitally for the first time and at a different office than last year. Routinely, comparisons are done year to year. A subtle area presented suspicions. I was called back for a second mammogram of the left breast. An ultrasound was done right afterwards.  I like to look at a tech’s face to see if I need to worry. But cancer never entered my head as something that would happen to me. This girl, however, was suddenly being super, super nice. I knew I was in trouble.  The biopsy was a week later and the next night came the words from my doctor; “It was positive. You have invasive ductal carcinoma of the breast.”

Patti getting her second round of chemo. Each session takes between four and five hours.

Patti getting her second round of chemo. Each session takes between four and five hours.

I had never experienced such anxiety before. I was on a “wine and tears diet” for about three weeks.  The emotions ran high and wild. It’s exhausting. Everyone tries to help with the right words but honest to god I thought I was going to deck the next person that told me to be positive or give me the cure for cancer. Or, “this is a journey” for me to learn from and to be grateful.

I was already there. I was grateful. I didn’t need this cancer to teach me a life lesson. I have been a vegetarian for 24-years. My diet is healthy. I am highly engaged with my spirituality.  I felt betrayed.

I never play the “Why Me” card because the truth is the only reason it’s me is because I am one in eight. One in eight women who will get breast cancer this year. And that number is expected to grow to one in five in just three short years.

Patti hangs any remnant from her treatments on this tree. It might seem morbid but it actually is encouraging to see how much attention her condition is getting.

Patti hangs any remnant from her treatments on this tree. It might seem morbid but it actually is interesting to see how much attention her condition is getting.

I’ve received some bits of good advice. One was to get a notebook. This is an incredibly busy disease and you need something to keep all your records, questions, results together.  I started a college-lined note paper listing all my appointments. That page was two-thirds full by the first month. Mammograms, ultrasounds, biopsy, surgery. Doctors appointments with the surgeon, radiology oncologist, medical oncologist, second opinions, interventional radiologist, cardiologist, chemo class. After all this I need my vision and hearing checked. There were PET scans, cat scans, bone scans, MRI of brain and breast, echo-cardiograms, nuclear medicine marker implant of the tumor, lab tests, BRCA tests.

The other advice I got was how to handle people. People tend to want to tell you their stories, even if they are bad ones. Just bless them and remember it is their story, not yours.  Also, breast cancer is an alphabet soup. It’s not so simple to find someone who has exactly what you do.  My alphabet soup is IDC, DCIS, LCIS, Stage 1, grade 2, ER +, PR +, HER2 + node negative. There is so much more information about different types of cancer now that makes each treatment different from the next. It’s an amazing algorithm. So my bit of learned advice is not go to the internet to look up treatment and prognosis because it’s very individual. And be weary of sites that claim cures. Many things interfere with treatments. Just my two-cents: stick to well-known sites if you are interested in alternative and complementary therapies. Sloan Kettering and Susan G Koman websites both have pages on interactions and effectiveness on these therapies.

One of my worst cancer days was while at the appointment with the medical oncologist. I was told then that during the lumpectomy, they also found another cancer, DCIS, which stays within the ductal system. They also found LCIS ( Lobular Carcinoma In Situ) which is not removed. It’s not a true cancer, but a marker for recurrence in either breast. There’s no definite borders of LCIS to remove it. My treatment needs to deal with the immediate cancers and then the LCIS later. Hearing what was recommended was just devastating: chemo, radiation, port placement, possibly more surgery, hormone therapy. It was overwhelming.

I am currently going through chemotherapy. I need a total of seventeen treatments given every three weeks. This will take a year. The first six rounds of chemo are of a cocktail of three different drugs: Taxotere, Carboplatin, and Herceptin. The Taxotere and Carboplatin carry the worst of the side effects.  The remaining rounds will be just the Herceptin. Radiation to come after the first six doses, 37 total rounds, five days a week.

Patti with our lovely niece Jami at a recent family gathering. The support from loved ones has been amazing.

Patti with our lovely niece, Jami at a recent family gathering. The support from loved ones has been amazing.

In no small way I am beginning to relate my course of treatment of my breast cancer to the act of hiking the PCT. Seeing it this way, I’m kind of looking at it like this: If we’re not out on the trail hiking our way to the Canadian border, I’ll be here hiking my cancer to kick its fucking ass.

Patti
January 1, 2013

Links to the entire series about Patti’s battle with cancer listed below:

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56 thoughts on “Hiking Cancer

  1. Hi Patti, There is one thing that I have always known about you, and that is how powerful you are. I am seeing you healthy and strong, knowing that you are supported by many guides and angels, both seen and unseen. Thank you for sharing your journey. I am here for you, standing for your health and wellbeing.

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  2. Hey Patti, I was hiking in the Anza Borrego Dessert this weekend and I thought of you and Lynn. My daughter was hiking with us, she finally is old enought to appreciate it and it was beautiful and definately good for the soul. It was just a three mile hike to the Palm Canyon oasis, but so beautiful with lot of running water between big boulders, so there were pretty waterfalls and lots of palms. Yes, please do some serious cancer but kicking!! Hope you are able to get on the trail as often as possible…..I will send that wish up to the Spirit in the Sky! Cindy

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  3. PCT here they come! LOVE YOU guys. Patti, you have always been and continue to be a great big sister, although your really tiny. xoxo

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  4. Hey Patti, I have been thinking about you and wishing you well. You have such a great attitude and I know you will beat it!!! Please let me know if you need a hiking partner or lunch, whatever sometime.
    Laura

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  5. I’m with ya. A dear friend is a year out and doing well. Tomorrow it might be my turn. As you stated so well, one never knows. When and if, your blog will help. Thank you. Looking forward to LOTS of years of posts -mostly about hiking:)

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  6. Dear Incredible, Beautiful Patti . . . First, I want you to know how much I love you and am grateful for all you gave Marguerite Henry and all you have always, always given me as our paths have crisscrossed through the years. Second, I want you to know I am here for you and will help in whatever way I can whenever you need me. Third, thank you for sharing this blog with me and with all who are fortunate enough to be included. We will all learn from you. Give Lynn a hug for me as I know he is your rock as you have been for all of us in need through the years. I’m here, I’m not going away, & I have no “You’ll learn so much from this, Patti”-messages. Cancer just sucks. My best advice is to get a corded (not cordless) landline phone and stay off your cell phone as much as possible, turn off Wi-Fi, and disable anything wireless in the house. I have all the studies if you want any, but take my word for it and read some good fiction instead. Marguerite’s sister Gertrude had breast cancer in her 40’s or 50’s and was told by her doctor she wouldn’t survive. Sometime in her 8th decade she called Marguerite and read her the obituary of the doctor who had predicted her demise. She kicked cancer, too. I know Marguerite is your Guardian Angel, as you were hers, when she needed you most. I love you, Susan XO

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  7. Patty,
    The the emotional and physical strength and fortitude you have while also managing the incredibly stressful cancer adventure is so impressive. Thanks for sharing.
    Barbara

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  8. You are a beautiful writer Patti, especially describing something that is often so difficult for people to talk or write about, let alone to experience firsthand. I have been with and cared for several family members that have gone down the same path and my hope is that many others will discover your blog and find encouragement and understanding in their situation and their life. My prayers, heartfelt good wishes and admiration go out to you.

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  9. Amazing writer. Keep the journal going. Look at all the souls your’e reaching. Like a good author, you compare and contrast, bring in cause and effect, problem and solution, describe pulling in the readers. I think you have potential to author whatever topic you want! Be it cancer or be it hiking, other or a combination. I wonder if you would keep your real name or take on a new one…hmmmmm…smile.

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  10. Hi Patti, I’m seeing you hiking, radiant and in perfect health. I see your face to the sun … and I see you smiling, that wonderful smile of yours! And I see you soaking up the love, and the strength of that wonderful life-giving light, the warmth and the wellbeing too! And as you breathe deeply so thankful for your health and vitality, I also feel the peace, and the beauty within your your heart, and throughout your body. You are powerful, and you are amazing.And so it is!

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  11. I just finished my hike this past year. I got diagnosed with Melanoma when I was 19. I had 11 surgeries in 13 months and then I decided I was going to take matters into my own hands. I went out and thru-hiked the PCT. Class of 2012 : ) There was another man this year who had cancer out there as well. Trail name “Astro.” He ended up having to get chemo on trail and he still finished. If this is something you really want NOTHING can stop you from achieving it. We are both wonderful examples of this. It’s all a mind game. There were plenty days out there where my body was done with it… but my mind never was. 157 days later I walked into Canada! The will to carry on is far superior to any diagnosis that a doctor could ever hand out. Sometimes you’ve just got to take things “One Step at A Time.” That became my motto out there. If you read any of the registers along the way you’ll see it : ) Don’t ever give up! Whether you think you can, or you think you can’t… either way you’re right.

    BloodBank

    (This is Astros blog) http://hikingthepacificcrest.wordpress.com/

    (This is my PCT specific blog) http://saraspcthike.blogspot.com/

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  12. I am just discovering this news…..I want to express my thoughts and prayers will be with you going forward….and may you kick some a$&, Patti!! I am saddened that you have to go thru all this, but confident that you will emerge at the other end of this journey healthy and stronger than ever. You are an amazing person, my friend…..take care and let me know if there is anything I can do!
    Yvonne

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    • Thanks Yvonne. It’s been a process letting people know and I kept it from my “FB community ” for a long while till I finally decided it didn’t matter anymore. Thank you so much for your kind words and thoughts. I miss you my friend!

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  13. You are beautiful, no matter what, with or without hair. Easy for me to say though, sitting here with my full head of hair. Both of my girls have shaved their heads–twice– to raise money for St. Baldrick’s foundation–they raise money & awareness for childhood cancer research/help. Each time, for each of them, reactions of other people have been strong. There is a lot of emotion & other things wrapped up in our hair, especially if you are female.

    I have your special x-stitch sampler sitting here, waiting for me to mail. Sorry I suck at getting it to you. I have thought about you, though, each time I see that, and think, dang, get over yourself Susan and get this to Patti! She’s the one who’s dealing with fucking cancer afterall.

    I admire you, for chronicling your journey. I’m happy you do, and especially happy to be back in touch with you! 🙂

    Keep checking your mail…
    and keep on hiking! love this about you & lynn!
    xoxoxoxoxo Sue K

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    • Sue

      I admire your girls and the courage it must have taken for them to shave their heads! You’re right- it’s amazing the emotions caught up in our hair. Lynn still has more than me right now. It feels like forever to get it growing back. It’s been 6 weeks. I just hope it doesn’t grow back gray 🙂

      Seems to me having that sampler is a good way for you to keep giving me good thoughts which is good too.

      I love hearing from you and thank you for your support! I feel like the miles and time between is/was just a blink.

      Much love
      Patti

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  14. Hi Patti,
    It Odalys classmate from Lincoln School to give support you can kick this Cancer in the ass.You are little Patty the one I remember get out of my way attitude when we play outside in reses or inside with your school work .
    I had Duct Carcinoma in situ Stage 1 + + HER2 I have all my paper work. My chemo was the same cocktail of three different drugs: Taxotere, Carboplatin, and Herceptin. The Taxotere and Carboplatin carry the worst of the side effects. I did Herceptin. 1 year a half or so.This was all after I had my left breast remove and 2 of my lymph ..to make sure ……So far so good how I prayed and cry then and now that it does not come back its been now 4 yrs my friend….I hear all u r saying I will not give my full story. My mouth and my hands where the worse they bleed…….Now I have curly hair…….Lots of love, energy, prayers, from me to you.

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    • Support comes from such unexpected places. I am sorry you had to go through all this too but thank you thank you for sharing and your support , energy, and prayers. Cancer sucks!
      I remember you as the girl that made us laugh. 🙂 Thank you my friend.

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  15. Checking in…..So proud of each step you take….I cannot even imagine what you have experienced and would not attempt to say I did. Keep moving forward, one day at a time, “kicking cancer’s a$% and taking names”. Jackson and I continue to keep you in our prayers. You have amazing strength and so much support as evidenced by this blog….take care and happy trails to you! 🙂
    Yvonne

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    • LOL. I’ll start keeping a list of names. 🙂
      Thanks for the encouragement and support Yvonne and from your little guy.
      Lynn and I will be back out on the trail this weekend. The fatigue from radiation held me back last week but up and ready now!

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  16. I love you! You are an inspiration and I am so proud to be your niece. Congratulations on coming out even better on the other side. xoxo

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  17. Oh Patti, You are “taking names”, and continuing to inspire all of us. What I find remarkable is that you were already one of the most inspirational people I’d ever met. You, Marguerite Henry, and a special handful of others. Of course you always smiled for your nurses & techs in radiation therapy. That is the essence of you. We read about your understandable anger and questioning at all this . . . but I knew you first through your work as a hospice nurse and still what I remember most is your smile. There is also a depth of reassurance to your words and your voice, and I suspect that comes from deep within at a soul level. Remember that, and reassure yourself as you have reassured all of us at various times. Keep your anti-oxidant levels up and your Wi-Fi and cell phone off. If you don’t have an old-fashioned landline in your home, please buy one (Overstock.com has them). Cordless phones also emit RF radiation. We’re all friends for a reason, and I’m supposed to be sharing this part with you. Coffee or a green drink soon? Much Love to you!

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    • Susan, That you so much for your exceptionally kind words. Knowing that you have made it through your trials has been inspiring to me as well. I have always felt as well we are connected, even if we don’t see each other physically often. Coffee some time sounds great.

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  18. Pingback: Hiking Cancer – McShap Pacific Crest Trail Journal

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