Transforming Cancer Survivors into Powerful Advocates for Change
By Angie Patterson, October 16, 2014
When Angie Patterson was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2001, she was juggling a high-powered career with raising a son as a single mother. Her days were filled with long meetings, managing employees, after school events and enjoying a fulfilling life alongside close friends and loved ones. Fighting cancer was the last thing she ever imagined would become a priority in her life.
After a visit to her doctor's office, Patterson was stunned by her breast cancer diagnosis and began to experience an initial flurry of emotions any cancer survivor would understand – fear, anger, confusion and despair. Knowing she had limited time to devise a treatment plan with her health providers, Patterson jumped into action and did what she now encourages all patients to do immediately after their diagnosis – she educated herself about breast cancer and how to fight the disease.
"I went online to find any information I could. As a single mom, I was determined to beat this disease," Patterson said. "Thirteen years ago, it was so hard to find good information."
In Patterson's opinion, education is vital to understanding how your personal health history will impact your fight against the disease. Rather than feeling intimidated by such a life-changing diagnosis,
Patterson believes women should feel empowered to assume a lead role in managing their health, especially during their fight against breast cancer.
"My advice is to first gather reliable information and then become a partner with your health care team," she said. "You are a critical member of this team and have a key role in making decisions that are
right for you."
After arming herself with information, Patterson began a long journey to overcome breast cancer through a multi-faceted treatment plan that included a mastectomy, reconstructive surgery, several rounds of chemotherapy and radiation. She credits the power of her personal support system as her motivation to persevere through her cancer treatments.
"My family is where I found my greatest support," Patterson said. "My sister, Brenda, is my best friend and she drove me to all of my chemo treatments, sat with me and made me laugh. My parents took care of both me and my son when I was too sick. My precious son, Billy, was my strength during this journey as well. They all gave me encouragement, love and laughter, and were my reason for beating this disease."
Any breast cancer patient will agree that enduring the physical components of treatment is only half the battle. The emotional journey of a breast cancer patient can be just challenging, especially during
common physical changes such as hair loss while undergoing chemotherapy treatments.
When Patterson confronted hair loss during her journey, she found inspiration from an unsuspecting place – an old family keepsake – to transform her perspective on breast cancer and how it could positively impact impact her life.
"After I lost my hair, I could not sleep one night without obsessing about when it would grow back," Patterson said. "One night, I picked up my grandmother's Bible to read it. She lost her battle with cancer many years before. I found a yellowed article that had been printed in the Atlanta Journal Constitution in the 1980’s titled, 'The Station,' by Robert J. Hastings. Slowly I got the message: We spend too much time thinking about arriving at the 'station' and not enough time enjoying the ride. My grandmother was telling me to stop worrying, pay attention along my cancer journey and do something with it."
This realization was the beginning of Patterson’s new journey – one of surviving and thriving after beating breast cancer.
During her continued fight against the disease, Patterson found the strength to give back to her community by volunteering and building a support community with other female breast cancer patients, all of whom she has lovingly named her "survivor sisters."
"Volunteering helped me understand how significant it is to talk with someone who has also heard those horrible words, 'I'm sorry, you have cancer,'" she said. "My breast cancer survivor sisters are all so
important in my life. We laugh and cry together and are honest with each other about our experiences."
Identifying her passion for philanthropy sparked Patterson’s interest in connecting her personal hobbies with her professional goals. After years of giving back to cancer patients, her dream of helping patients survive cancer as a full-time job came true when she joined the Georgia Cancer Coalition in 2005. Two years ago, she became vice president at the Georgia Center for Oncology Research and Education (CORE), an organization that focuses exclusively on increasing collaboration to offer higher quality, better organized, and more cost-effective cancer care.
"It is a privilege to come to work every day at Georgia CORE where I continue to work on statewide programs focused on cancer survivorship and cancer patient navigation," she said. "I am so blessed that I have a job that allows me to improve the quality of care for cancer patients and improve the quality of life for cancer survivors in Georgia. More than anything, I want to help others through their cancer journey."
More than 13 years after her diagnosis, Patterson lives an active life while enjoying a fulfilling career that enables her to support other cancer patients and survivors through their journey. In Patterson’s eyes, surviving any type of cancer is a life-long journey that begins the moment you are diagnosed.
"In the world of cancer, you become a survivor on the day of your diagnosis until the end of your life," she said. "It is not just about getting rid of cancer; it is about healing your whole self. Even though
we may be cancer-free, there are always the worries: Will it come back? What are the effects of cancer? We must be educated about our health care options."
In her continued efforts to advocate for cancer patients, Patterson recently supported the launch of Georgia CORE’s Cancer Survivorship Connection, an online destination that offers a space for cancer
survivors, caregivers, and health care professionals to access information, resources, and tools to improve the quality of life for cancer survivors here in Georgia.
"I'm so proud Georgia CORE recently implemented our Cancer Survivorship Connection, a web portal to provide cancer survivorship resources and information," Patterson continued. "I want all survivors to be their own advocate, but most importantly, I want them to always feel empowered and gaining access to vital information and resources is the first step. It’s an honor to be a part of this project and