As a wife, mother, grandmother and registered nurse, family is everything to me. I have a variety of hobbies and interests: I’m in the middle of writing a novel, I love gardening and I enjoy making natural skin care products. Besides my family, I love hanging out with our two Silky terriers, Lexi and Lola.
A decade ago, back in 2007, I inadvertently touched the side of my neck and was alarmed to feel a raised lump. I knew I could not just let it go. I quickly made an appointment to see my primary care provider—my family doctor—who ordered an ultrasound of my neck.
The ultrasound was followed by a CAT scan. Results showed a neck mass with a substantial lesion. Its nature was unclear. We needed an expert. I was referred to a Penn State Cancer Institute expert: David Goldenberg, MD, chief of head and neck surgery at Penn State Health Milton S. Hershey Medical Center.
Lee, my husband, sensed there was a problem, but was stunned when Dr. Goldenberg said the mass was cancerous. I came out of surgery with a modified, radical neck dissection. More than 30 lymph nodes were removed, one in which metastatic squamous carcinoma was present. However, because the primary source was still unknown, I had a second surgery to remove my tonsils, which Dr. Goldenberg had believed to be the primary source.
Nobody in my family had ever had cancer. It was so surreal. How could this be happening and where did I go from here?
I had been invited to a head and neck cancer support group in April 2008, but it wasn’t until October—six months later—that I finally attended. I was met by a small group of people who welcomed me and knew exactly what I had gone through, because they had been through it, too. Suddenly, I didn’t feel alone anymore, and I learned that I was a lot stronger than I thought I was. With this shift in my outlook and perspective and the support of the group, I began to heal. I realized that there is life after cancer—a good, fulfilling and productive life—and I created a new “normal” for myself.
After participating in a local support group for several years, Dr. Goldenberg met with Patrice and asked if she would be interested in becoming the nurse facilitator of the newly established Penn State Head and Neck Cancer Support Group. Dr. Goldenberg recognized what Patrice could bring to the group and how she would be able to help so many others in this role. Soon – she realized it, too.
I was so inspired by Dr. Goldenberg’s commitment to his patients and his tireless research in finding a cure for this disease that I, too, wanted to do whatever I could to help. Never in my wildest dreams would I have imagined I would be facilitating a support group, but—I love it! The group inspires me; people sharing their stories and their struggles, encouraging and supporting one another. I’m especially inspired by a few long-time survivors who always make an extra effort to reach out to those who need additional support. They set an example that I, too, want to reach out and bring a ray of hope into the lives of others. Let them know that they are not alone and that there is light at the end of the tunnel; that this diagnosis does not mean their lives are over!
I have been blessed by many wonderful people whom I never would have met, if not for my cancer diagnosis. I’ve learned a lot about life and about myself, and have grown in so many different ways. Sometimes good things do come out of having cancer. Sometimes you find your inspiration!