Patti Carey and I first met two years ago, when she came to her first Leadership conference in Charlotte... although I felt like I knew her already from lots of phone conversations the past six months.
When Patti was in town for last year’s Leadership conference in January, she shared a little bit about some new health concerns and her choice to have a double mastectomy. Patti has always been very active with YSC (Young Survival Coalition) and very open about being a breast cancer survivor and an advocate for early diagnosis.
Patti’s gentle and strong spirit is something that I admire about her so much; listening to her going through an uncertain time, after battling breast cancer years before, I asked her if she would want to share her story. My aunt is a breast cancer survivor and my grandmother, whom I never met, died far too young, when my dad was in high school but there’s no easy way to even begin to put yourself in someone’s shoes that is battling or has battled cancer.
I hope that this touches as many people as possible and that Patti’s faith, hope and strength is a source of inspiration and comfort, as much or more so as it is for me.
Jennifer: I know you have such a strong faith and family - has that made it easier having something and someone to lean on?
Patti: First, I am very fortunate to have had my family and friends support me this year. Not everyone has family and friends to lean on when going through a breast cancer diagnosis and the subsequent surgeries and treatment plans. There are many women who travel this journey alone. The journey at times, can be very overwhelming even though you have support from others.
Second, my faith kept me focused especially when diagnosed with breast cancer a second time. I had to really dig deep to realize and trust that some things that occur in life are out of your control. For me, setting aside 10 minutes a day to either pray or mediate help me get centered. By being somewhat centered, it was much easier to go with the flow.
Jennifer: What's been the most difficult thing?
Patti: The hardest thing for me was having to ask or rely on others for help. I am very independent and have always had the “can do” attitude. Plus, in the past I was a caregiver to both of my parents. My father had prostate cancer and my mother had Alzheimer’s.
When you go through a surgery like a double mastectomy with reconstruction, the first few weeks you definitely need help with the small things we all take for granted like showering, dressing and even getting in and out of bed or a chair without help.
Jennifer: What's been the “easiest” thing about the process?
Patti: I did genetic testing 5 years ago. The genetic testing was positive for a breast cancer gene mutation called CHEK2. I made a decision then that the first time a biopsy was needed, that I would do a double mastectomy. That event occurred in December. So realistically, my decision to have a double mastectomy was made 5 years ago. That is why the decision was an easy one and the right one for me.
Jennifer: Any surprises (good or bad)?
Patti: For me, what was supposed to be a preventive double mastectomy turned out to be a treatment. My pathology report stated that a new cancer had just started to grow. Surprised? Not really. Whenever you deal with a cancer journey, you always know that there will be surprises both good and bad. You just hope the surprise is a good one.
Jennifer: I am sure it’s so personal but any advice to others going through this process?
Patti: Know and listen to your body. If something doesn’t feel right, get it checked out. Early diagnosis really does affect your outcome. Also should you have to face a cancer journey, educate yourself so that you can be your own advocate.
Jennifer: Expand on what you like to say "Enjoying the Journey AND Trusting the Journey"?
Patti: We all experience uncertainties in life. True strength lies in picking up the pieces and trusting your instincts that the journey you are on is moving in the right direction. Many times you are faced with multiple decisions and outcomes. What I have learned in uncertain times is to take a step back and look at the options and then make a decision. Once you make a decision, you have to “trust” the decision. That is what I call “trusting your journey”.
I love “Enjoy your journey” because so many times, we don’t take the time to just be happy in the moment especially if the moment is not what you expected the moment to be. As strange as it sounds, the one gift cancer has given me is the gift of learning to be present in the moment, no matter what.
Jennifer: How has LSJ worked for your clothing right now?
Patti: After my mastectomy surgery, I had limited mobility with my arms and very strict limits from my medical team. For the first week or so when my surgical drains were still in, my clothing choices were very limited. I needed help getting dressed. The pieces I chose to wear had to loose fitting, accessible and easy to pull over my head or have an open front. Some of my favorite pieces during that time were the Taylor jumpsuit, the Greta wrap, the Diane, Marianne Top, Juliette Fleece jacket and the Winnie leggings.
After my second surgery, I could wear most pieces in the LSJ collection.
Jennifer: How have you kept yourself busy being forced to take it easy? I know you're so active!
Patti: Being inactive took a lot of patience and resilience. My everyday lifestyle always included some type of activity along with my work schedule. I was used to a very active lifestyle of cycling or spinning, playing tennis or golf, and doing yoga. I was able to go for short walks, read a little, listen to audible books and binge watch a few shows from start to finish in the weeks following the surgery. As my progress continued,I was able to increase my activity level with a few modifications such as riding a stationary bike and only doing lower body yoga.
I have to admit, I was stir crazy at times!
Jennifer: When is your next bike race / when will you be able to ride again?
Patti: The ride is the coming up in a few days! The ride is called YSC Tour De Pink - west coast. The ride is a fundraiser for Young Survival Coalition, the only international organization addressing the issues of young women diagnosed with breast cancer under the age of 40. The ride is 3 days and covers 200 miles starting on October 26-28th. The ride starts in Thousand Oaks, California and goes to Santa Barbara and then heads back down to Malibu along the beautiful Pacific coast.
The ride will be different for me this year since my training time has been very limited. Distance will not matter this year and will be limited. Getting back in the bike, hearing the sound of my shoes clipping in, my gears shifting, the sun in my face, the wind whistling through my helmet will signal that my recovery has come full circle.
Jennifer: What are you looking forward to most upon full recovery?
Patti: No more surgeries! Had two surgeries within 3 months of each other.
Jennifer: How do you define happiness?
Patti: Happiness is spending time doing what you love, spending time with family and friends and just enjoying your journey in life.