Real Women. Real Stories: Pat’s breast cancer battle

WOTV 4 Women shares local stories from West Michigan women affected by breast cancer

breast cancer survivor Pat Raap
Pat and her family celebrating her daughter's wedding.

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich.  (WOTV) — WOTV 4 Women is honoring West Michigan women affected by breast cancer all month long by sharing their personal stories.  According to the American Cancer Society, 1 in 8 women will develop breast cancer in her lifetime, Pat Raap was one of those women.  This is her story…

Breast cancer began with my mom…

My story actually begins many years ago, when I was a baby. Although I don’t remember those years…

I have been reminded over and over. When I was a one year old, I understand that my mom was diagnosed with breast cancer. That was back in 1958 – 59. I am not sure when it all began.

All I know is when I was three on Palm Sunday morning, while we were at church my mom passed away, from cancer.

breast cancer survivor pat raap
Pat as a baby pictured with her mother who also had breast cancer.

 

For years I had always lived with the fear of what if that happens to me? Would I ever be able to get married, have children and have a life? My dad remarried when I was five, and I had a wonderful step mom. She took good care of my three brothers and me.

I am not sure if it was the times back then or maybe it’s even today’s times, but once I was getting old enough to ask questions….I wasn’t allowed. It was an “unspoken subject”.

As I got into those pre-teen and teen years I had all sorts of questions and needed answers. I struggled, because I couldn’t get anyone to talk about my real mom, her illness or anything about her. Getting beyond high school, and in my early 20’s I was able to reconnect with my aunts and was able to hear a few stories, that I had longed for, but still, no one wanted to talk about her illness.

A frightening discovery…

Pat pictured with husband Dennis
Pat pictured with husband Dennis

 

In 1979 I married the love of my life , so my emotions were redirected to my future and him. Over the next few years we had two beautiful daughters and a wonderful son. With the subject always somewhat on my mind I continued to wonder, “What if I wasn’t going to live long enough to see them grow up?” Then I found a lump on my breast…

So of course, the panic set in until I could see the doctor. I had ultrasounds, he tried to exasperate it and nothing. It turns out it was a swelled milk gland. However, that little scare combined with my history led my doctor to have yearly routine mammograms after that. He reassured me that we would stay proactive and I would be fine. And I was!

A routine mammogram reveals worst fear

Generic mammogram results

Fast forward a few more years to 2003, our kids were growing up, my youngest was a senior in high school. My husband had an excavating business for over 25 years, and times were tough. We struggled for those last few years, work was slow, and financially we were drained. I was so worried for him, and his health. The stress was wearing him down. In December of 2003 we decided it was best to close our business and lay off our employees. It was one of the hardest things we ever had to do.

In 2000, we had started a small sign shop, that wasn’t quite ready to support us yet but we were thankful we would at least have a little income. So….after the lst of the year, I started searching for new health insurance.  I had come to a decision and had told him that I only needed to get my mammogram the end of the month and I would be good to cancel my current insurance, and move on with more affordable. Well…..that was the beginning.

January 23rd I went in for my normal routine mammogram. They came out to tell me that they spotted something, and would recommend a biopsy. I was freaking out! I had told them of our business closing, cancelling insurance…so they agreed to do the biopsy the next day. It was routine, I was sure I was going to be fine. I was feeling great, with just the stress of what was next for our business weighing on my shoulders. My biopsy was about 2:00 p.m. in the afternoon and it was the longest night/next day ever waiting for that call. Finally about 3:00 p.m. in the afternoon I still hadn’t heard, so I called.

Well, of course….I heard the word! Cancer! All my fears, all those thoughts, and the what if’s…..they were all there, in front of me! I was only 47-years-old, my kids were still growing up!

I immediately called my surgeon as he was the doctor that always did my breast checks and ordered my mammograms. But of course, they are never available on the spot. I just had to wait patiently for his return call.

My girls were in the shop with us when I got the news. We had lots of tears, lots of hugs, and lots of reassurance that it will be ok. But I will never forget my son coming home from school and having to tell him. I came up to the house to let it sink in…. and of course to get on the Internet, which is a real no, no! He walked in the door, and I could see the fear in his eyes as he asked, “any news?” I think he already knew. He just wrapped his arms around me and told me it was going to be okay. With my husband, daughters and son at my side, I knew I would be alright. Our dinner that night was pretty quiet.
My call from Doctor Reinstra came about 8:30 p.m. that night. He reassured me over and over that the “C word” DOES NOT MEAN death! He would see me in his office bright and early Thursday morning to discuss our plan.

Plan? What plan? What was going to happen to me? I was prepared to do what ever I had to to get rid of this cancer.

My next step was to have to tell my dad. My mom was at the Christian Rest Home with final stages of Alzheimer’s. And that is where I would find him, everyday. When I told him, I could see the fear in his eyes, and his first words were, “Make sure you get those colbalt treatments!” LOL What? Well, I think that was the name for radiation back then. I finally heard a part of the story of when my mom got sick. It sounded like they thought they had got it all, so she didn’t have the rest of her treatments – it had spread to her brain and all over. (I am not really sure, as I still do not have the whole story). So his major concern was to please get treatments. Which, I reassured him that was my plan.

Celebrating love and beginning a battle

pat raap breast cancer survivor
Pat celebrating her 25th wedding anniversary with the family the day before her lumpectomy.

 

The next couple week or so were a blur….. our 25th wedding anniversary was February 3rd, and on February 4th I was scheduled for my lumpectomy. All went well, the doctor felt he got a big enough margin. I was relieved and thankful that it hadn’t spread to my lymph nodes. After a bit of healing, I would start some chemo and radiation. I did end up having to go in a second time to have more of my margin removed.

I was scheduled to see the radiologists and a chemo doctor. My first visit was with a chemo doctor.  I remember my husband and I sitting in the room waiting and waiting for him to come in. The power even had gone out, for who knows what reason – but it just wasn’t one of those appointments you don’t feel great about. After a long wait – he came in and told us to let him do the talking, and then there would be time for questions. Well….without going into detail, I left that place bawling all the way home.

I called my surgeon back, and he told me he would reschedule me with another chemo doctor.  He wanted it to be someone I was comfortable with because I would more than likely be seeing them the rest of my life.

He wanted it to be someone I was comfortable with because I would more than likely be seeing them the rest of my life.

Well, he scheduled me with Dr. Lawrence Pawl….whom I love and admire. From the minute Dennis and I met with him, we were both comfortable and positive that he was the one to take care of me. He reassured me that it was only a little curve in the road to life, and I would be back on track very soon. He had said he wanted me to be a good six weeks out of my surgery and recovering well before he started.

Well there was a little glitch…..my daughter was getting married in August and I just wanted to get in and get it over with so I could be healthy enough to celebrate the biggest day of her life. He assured me I would do great, and even started me a couple weeks early.

So, in the early part of March, I began my treatments. The first four were every three weeks, and kicked my butt. I would be down a good 3-4 days after my treatments, and then would level out.

I was determined to stay active and keep working as much as I could. My son was a high school senior and I was chairperson of his senior all night party. I was determined I could still do it and would also participate in graduation night. My family wasn’t so sure I should, but my doctor and nurses, all agreed, I could, as long as I agreed to call my husband and have him pick me up if I got to tired. I made it!

pat raap breast cancer surviror
Pat and her family celebrate her son’s high school graduation.

Getting ready for my daughter’s wedding

My next focus was on my daughter’s wedding in August. I was finished with my hard treatments, but starting up the 12-week-long, once-a-week treatment. This was a little milder, but I also had to be on steroids two days before each treatment. Well, that was a treat for my husband, and me trying to work…it turned me into a fly on the wall, like in the fall, when they start going crazy! LOL I was so hyper and worked up.

Needless to say I didn’t work too much then. With two treatments left to go my daughter’s wedding was coming. I could delay those couple of treatments so I would feel ok for the wedding, but as determined as I was, I pressed on. Well, with being on the steroids it can puff you up! Yes, that was me, the Pillsbury dough-boy. I had to have my niece pick me up a new skirt for my dress from Minnesota where she lived and we had gone shopping. Thankfully they had one! So that problem was solved.

breast cancer survivor Pat Raap
Pat and her family celebrating her daughter’s wedding.

 

The day had arrived, and everything was perfect , Other than the fact I was pretty puffy and broke out in hives! But- the wedding was beautiful, so was my daughter, and the day was perfect. The reception was a blast. I was pooped…but I made it!

Celebrating my last treatment

My last treatment was a celebration. It was almost bittersweet, after all, I had spent the last several months seeing them regularly, they were my family now. But they reassured me I would still be seeing them regularly.

The next step on to radiation. Six weeks, every day, and I would be done! Those treatments went good, with little burn and I was starting to regain some of my strength. For me 2004 was a year we will never forget – beginning with my cancer diagnosis. We closed our excavating business after 25 years, not knowing how we were going to make it. In February, we celebrated our 25th wedding anniversary, my son graduated from high school, my husband turned 50, my daughter got married, and my oldest daughter was pregnant with our first grand child. All for which I am truly blessed and thankful for.

Cancer-free with a new perspective

Today, I am 10 years cancer-free and grateful for every day. I have met so many wonderful people, made so many new friends along this journey and I have also lost some friends to cancer. From the day I was diagnosed it gave me a new perspective on my life and what is important.

I went from being worried about closing our business, how were we going to survive, our sign business was not ready to support us …what was going to happen…then being hit with the word “cancer”.

It changed everything….all of that stuff didn’t matter. It was only stuff. I put my trust in God, and knew that he wouldn’t let me down. I had to stay positive for my family, and with our faith we would get through this.

I think at times my family got sick of how positive I was! But it got us through. Over the last 10 years, I have stayed that positive person, living each day as it is a gift. I am blessed with a wonderful family – My husband and I have our Sign Business, my kids are all married to wonderful spouses, and I have 6 wonderful grand children, that I adore. Life is Good.

Submit your story

WOTV 4 Women is looking for women all over West Michigan to share their stories about breast cancer. Whether you are a survivor, fighter, or advocate, we want to hear your story.If you’re interested in being featured as a guest writer. Create your story about how breast cancer has affected your life. You can share advice, symptoms, and support with other women just like you.

Email your blog style story and pictures (if possible) to info@wotv4women.com

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