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Back To The Future

tips for cancer patients

This post is brought to us by Rann!

I’ll never forget my surgeon walking into my hospital room the night before my surgery. It was a Sunday, March 13, 1983, and I had been twenty-six years old for five days. In fact, I met him on my birthday, and it’s a day I’ll never forget.

I had a large and very active tumor sitting on the mouth of my uterus that was causing profuse bleeding, and it seemed as though it was getting worse by the hour.

From the time of our meeting until that night he had quickly assembled a crack team of doctors, male and female, to assist him. They weren’t much older than me, maybe thirty, and my surgeon was only about forty years old. It was a rush job, but I liked my doctor, so I was relaxed and actually looking forward to getting that thing out.

My surgeon walked in around nine o’clock that evening and asked if I would be willing to take part in a scientific study. I honestly had no clue what that meant. He told me that if I did, I would be helping all of the “future Miss Pattersons” in my shape. He asked me to think on it, but that he would need my answer by morning. I didn’t know what to do. My mother came in a little later and I told her what he had asked me. The only thing was, there wasn’t anything to discuss. My surgeon didn’t elaborate on what they were planning to do and my guess is, is that they probably didn’t thoroughly know either.

My mother, of course, couldn’t tell me what to do, it was my decision to make. All I knew to do was to go by my gut instinct because I did like my surgeon. He was communicative, obviously very intelligent, and he had an empathetic side. However, to be fair to me, about the study itself, I was not informed of the specifics of what was to be done. So it was a risk. But I was in a risky situation anyway, and I could see that allowing it would possibly help others.

So I said yes.

Monday morning came and my surgery was extensive. I was given a very low, and wide horizontal cut over my pelvic area. They removed nodes from my groin to my breasts, and did a lot of exploratory surgery, going into every open orifice I had, front and back. Everything went well, and I had not one positive node. Because the cancer had not spread, I was not a candidate for chemotherapy, so the doctors made the decision that radiation would be beneficial to me, and, as they put it “it would be the icing on the cake” of what was, at that time, already a very good outcome.

However, due to the scarring from the surgery, the radiation, and the lymph node removal, within three years I developed severe chronic lymphedema in my legs, and basically everything below my waist. So I’ve had much discomfort from the side-effects for many years.

Now, I am sitting here in the future I didn’t know if I would ever see, writing to all of you “future Miss Pattersons.” I feel very nostalgic as the memories are still so alive in my mind. It changes your life so fast that you really never forget.

Would I trade my decision for a “no” to the scientific study, now that I look back?

I doubt it.

I know that the surgeons did the best they could with the finest technology they had at that time. Doctors are human just like us, and our healthcare system has never been perfect. And I understand now that whenever I decide to go under the knife, my body will never be the same. It is common sense that the body naturally breaks down with age anyway, so take care of yourself.

If I could tell you four things that have helped me the most, they would be:
1) Trust your gut. Don’t listen to all the war stories, because what happened to them will not necessarily happen to you. And stay positive, because your mind will collapse if you don’t.
2) You will always have the choice to say “No.” It is your body, your life, – your future.
3) Seek out and develop your faith. It will be a strong foundation that you can stand on when everything else is shaking.
4) If you have limitations now, set boundaries and stick to them. When you start getting tired and irritated, mark that down, and you’ll know when to stop next time. This will keep your stress level low, and help your relationships, which in turn, will further enrich your life. It is a positive reinforcing cycle.

And lastly, work with the healthcare system, but don’t make it your life. In other words, don’t go home and set a place for it at the dinner table! Make sure you don’t lose YOU in the process of trying to save yourself. It’s an easy temptation, believe me.

Embrace the beautiful things of life like love, nature, family, friends, and pets. Maybe you are physically limited like me, but that doesn’t disqualify you from living a meaningful life. The digital age has made it possible for you to bird-watch or take a trip without ever leaving your bed! Take advantage of it because it can do amazing things for your mind. Sometimes when I’m in a funk, I go to my Pinterest board, Creation. Did you know that pink and cream birds live in the wild in New Zealand? Have you ever seen the waterfalls in Oregon?

You deserve to enjoy life just as much as anyone else does. Love is a powerful and positive force, and although it sounds so cliché, love yourself first and foremost.

“The greatest science
in the world
in heaven and on earth
is love…”
– Mother Teresa


Rann Patterson is a young adult two-time cancer survivor. She was cancer site editor at 2011-2014. In 2012 she was a featured patient on, and has guest- blogged for In 2013 she was listed as one of the Top 100 Healthcare Twitter Users by Her inspirational blog Color Me Well, is on Blogger. Rann currently resides in northeast Alabama. Visit her on Twitter @RannPatterson.