Special Report: Pattie's Journey

Posted at: 04/24/2014 12:40 PM
Updated at: 04/25/2014 7:10 AM
By: Brittany Falkers

Cancer touches the lives of so many.  While the path is different for everyone, a Northland woman is determined to kick cancer to the curb - inspiring others along the way.

Cancer it is the 'c-word' that stops you in your tracks, something Pattie Thompson knows all too well.

"I sat home alone for a while and just cried and cried and cried," Thompson said. "I was crushed."

Like many, the diagnosis and treatment of Thompson's breast cancer has been full of ups and downs.

"It is hard and I don't care how tough you are. It is hard," she said.

Thompson has been in and out of doctor's offices and surgeries since November 2014.  "It took me awhile to wrap myself around that.  My family was all going crazy. I said just let me absorb a little bit," she said. 

She has faced crisis before. A widow, now going on eight years, her husband Bob died of a sudden heart attack. She says tthat feeling of losing control parallels with the feeling of cancer.

"I lost my husband eight years ago and I was scared to death. How do I do this and how do you get by?"

Just as she did after the loss of her beloved Bob, Thompson has surrounded herself with the people she loves.  She has counted on family and friends like Lori Benson to help get her through the toughest of times.

"Oh, Pattie is definitely a person who likes her friends around her," Benson said.

These two feisty women have been close friends since grade school in Duluth. "We just have a good time, laughing and talking and shopping - girl things." Benson said.

Although Benson now lives out of state, she's been at Thompson's side since November when she started her cancer journey.

"Thought I would be here for six weeks and it ended up, four, four months now," Benson said.

"If Lori wouldn't have been here, I don't know what I would have done," Thompson said.

It started out as pre-cancerous cells, but after two lumpectomies and then a double mastectomy, a crushing blow - doctors discovered another form of cancer. Doctors at St. Luke's hospital in Duluth diagnosed Thomspon with ductal carcinoma in situ, also known as DCIS.

Thompson says she has always been a tough cookie, but with the worry of cancer her family noticed she wasn't her normal tenacious self.  "And I said, because it's scary."

Her doctor decided chemotherapy was her best option to beat breast cancer.  Still, she couldn't help thinking about her hair.  "The whole thing of it is that you will lose your hair.  You will be sick," she said.  "The good thing is, you are not dying and you will be better, but there's a lot of devastating stuff you've got to go through first."  

The thought of losing her locks, after everything she'd already been through, was almost unbearable.

"To me, I don't have a lot of hair and it's a big deal," Thompson said.  "It's a big deal for most women I think it is."

The list of fears when going though cancer is immense.  Losing your hair might not seem like it would top that list, but for many women it hits hard.

"They're saying it's going to happen (hair loss), so get prepared," Thompson said.

So, she did. Thompson started by finding a new hairdo.  She wanted something to feel comfortable in when the hair was gone.  That is when she met Lynn Aho, a wig specialist at La Peinado Salon in Superior.

"We don't realize it sometimes, but it's part of our identity," Aho said.  "Half of your identity is gone and the emotions go with it." .

Aho is a cancer survivor herself and says her first hand experience helps women, like Thompson, through the process. "Did I ever think I'd be working with wigs?  Oh never, never," Aho said.  "But that's where life ha taken me."

Then, another step.  Thompson decided to beat chemo to the punch. She got her core group of girlfriends and family together for shaving party. 

"I'm kind of a cat of a different breed.  I'm thinking, ya know, the way my family is, we celebrate life, we celebrate death, we celebrate everything... In a big way," Thompson said.

It wasn't easy, but she found inspiration through a popular disney song."Let It Go" from the movie "Frozen."

"I'm sobbing through the whole thing watching and I'm thinking, there's so many meanings to this little song," she said.

The meaning for Thompson?  To let go of what she can't control and take back what cancer strips away.  With friends and family by her side, she did.  she let go.

Thompson will finish her last round of chemo on May 6 and she can't wait.  In fact, she is already planning another party.

"My new slogan is Pattie is new in June," she giggled.

Thompson hopes sharing her story will help others going through similar situations. Because there are so many things cancer can take away from you, but pattie isn't letting it take away her determination.

"Even if it helps one other person I'll be happy," Thompson said.