Cancer survivor has no bad days
“Having cancer sucks,” said Sean Patrick, a Carbondale woman who triumphed over her ovarian cancer and created a foundation to fund research for her disease.”I was really living in the unknown,” Patrick said. “I think that’s something all cancer patients can relate to. You feel sort of separated from everyday life.”Patrick was always a very active woman, a rock climber who rode her bike 15 miles a day during the summer and hit the slopes nearly every day during the winter. She said one of the hardest things about battling cancer was cutting back on her activity.”You have to get used to not being able to do as much,” Patrick said. “I’ve learned to be a lot gentler with myself.”Laura Guerrero, an oncology nurse at the Valley View Cancer Center, said a lot of people come to her with concerns about adjusting to a new lifestyle. “We aim to give them hope,” Guerrero said, “give them comfort, give them knowledge.”Six University of Colorado oncologists work in the cancer center at Valley View on a rotating basis. The center was established seven years ago, and a new facility just opened in January. Dr. Al Saliman, director of the center, said the facility boasts a large and ever-increasing range of services, not the least of which are the three full-time oncology nurses who administer chemotherapy every day.Fear and copingGuerrero said patients are typically referred by their primary-care physicians. “When people first call,” she said, “they’re very scared.”She said the nursing staff at Valley View is there to offer support 24 hours a day.”I would rather have them call in the middle of the night and wake me up than have them feel alone or confused,” Guerrero said.Patrick said she appreciated support from oncology nurses throughout her treatment. But the fear has stayed with her.”Anytime you’re not feeling well, you get that oh-god-it’s-back feeling,” Patrick said. “I had a headache for three days and was afraid I had a brain tumor.”But she said those moments remind her that she’s a survivor.”There is no such thing as a bad day for me now,” said Patrick, who did not go into remission once during the first four years she lived with cancer. Now she leads the Hera Foundation, named for the Greek goddess known as the queen of heaven. The foundation raises money for research by sponsoring rock climbing events all over the country.”I felt compelled to do something,” Patrick said. “I channeled my anger at this disease into Hera.”AdvicePatrick said she had a lot of doctors tell her there was nothing wrong with her.”We know when something is not right,” Patrick said. “Being in the outdoors teaches you that – to trust your intuition.”She said the most important thing is to find a doctor the patient feels comfortable with. She suggests asking questions, taking notes and knowing the disease.”There’s so much information, and sometimes doctors ask you to make decisions really fast,” Patrick said. “You don’t have to act as fast as they ask most of the time.” Jo Ann Yacko, an oncology nurse at Valley View, stresses that there are things people can do to protect themselves.”Early detection is key,” Yacko said. “People need to see their doctors. And they should know their family histories.”Guerrero added that a good diet is also very important. The American Cancer Society determined that one third of cancer deaths in the United States are due to unhealthy diet and insufficient physical activity.Patrick said she believes being physically fit contributed to her triumph.”What I learned in athletics really helped me with the cancer,” Patrick said. “You really draw on inner resources. And I knew how to keep going when I didn’t want to.”
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