Learning to Live It Up: Why a 3-Time Cancer Survivor Facing Terminal Illness Considers Herself ‘Lucky’Published: May 24, 2023
In February, Pat Hastings was driving to Methodist Hospital from her home in Papillion for a brain scan – something the 69-year-old undergoes every six months.
“I was praying to God for good results,” the three-time cancer survivor said. “That’s when I went through a red light and got T-boned. Totaled my car, cracked a rib. I’m lucky. I’m a cat.”
But having survived breast, ovarian and metastatic lung cancer, Pat knows she doesn’t need nine lives to appreciate the one she has.
“I don’t want to know my prognosis – how much time I have left,” she said. “If you’re given six months, then what do you do when you get close to that six months? Why not just live it up – live life – every chance you have?”
“Why Me, God?”
“Lucky” is how Pat describes much of her cancer journey.
In 2002, a routine mammogram identified early stage breast cancer in her left breast.
The mother of two opted for a double mastectomy – the surgical removal of both breasts – which cured her of breast cancer but was eventually followed by a diagnosis of early stage ovarian cancer in 2003.
“I had heard about a genetic link between breast and ovarian cancer, so when I went in for my last surgical follow-up, I asked my surgeon if that was true. He said it was. That’s when it dawned on me that I still had my ovaries. Within a week, I decided to have them removed, and one of them tested positive.”
Surgery, again, was the only treatment her diagnosis required.
It wasn’t until 2021 that Pat’s luck seemed to run dry. She began losing feeling in her hands and feet. After a visit with her neurologist and a series of blood tests, scans and biopsies, it was determined that she had stage 4 lung cancer that had spread to her brain and bones.
“Why me, God?” Pat recalled thinking, especially after losing her husband to bladder cancer six years prior.
“When you’re diagnosed with something like that, your whole life just turns upside down,” she said. “Nothing you do seems to matter. I take a meal full of medicine twice a day, and I used to think, ‘Why take it? I have cancer – terminal cancer – so what are all these little pills really going to do?’”
But since the beginning of her cancer journey, she’s had a team of people supporting her and helping to turn her mindset around.
A Methodist Support Team
Thanks to the Harper’s Hope Cancer Survivorship Program, Pat has benefitted from services at Methodist’s Inner Beauty Salon since her first cancer diagnosis. Mastectomy bra fittings prior to breast reconstruction led to regular hair appointments, which she continues to enjoy every six weeks.
“They make me pretty when I can’t be – when it’s hard to be,” Pat said of Lori Fuchs, CMF, and Lisa McDermott, CMF, clinical cosmetologists at Inner Beauty.
“Pat especially loves her shampoos,” said McDermott, who’s cut and styled Pat’s hair for over a year. “It’s rejuvenating for your body when your scalp is being touched like that. It puts you in a soothing, comforting state of mind. You feel like you’re being cared for. And when you look good, you feel good, which makes what you’re going through a little easier.”
“Services aside, it’s a safe place for our patients to be,” Fuchs continued. “When you step through the threshold of Inner Beauty, it feels like you’re stepping into a different world in terms of aesthetics. It’s no longer a medical environment. It’s a healing environment. And that’s thanks in large part to the privacy we provide our patients. We lock the door. We give them one-on-one time and provide that safe place for them to be who they are, where they’re at.”
That one-on-one treatment is something Pat has experienced from everyone at Methodist Estabrook Cancer Center (MECC).
“The way he talks to me takes all my worries away,” Pat said. “One time, I had a good report. And I’m telling you, if the room was bigger, I think he would have done somersaults. He shares my happiness. And I think that’s The Meaning of Care.”
But according to Dr. Huyck, who’s quick to share credit with everyone at Methodist “from top to bottom,” The Meaning of Care goes deeper than experiencing a patient’s highs and lows. To him, it’s about stopping at nothing to improve their quality of life.
“Because, unfortunately, none of us are going to get out of this thing called life alive,” he said. “We’re all going to meet the end sooner or later, so focusing on the quality of life – the meaningfulness of life – is far more important than whether you’re going to live another day. My hope for all my patients – whether they have a cancer we believe is cured or cancer that may result in the end of life – is that they enjoy the life they have. Pat does that beautifully.”
“Now, when I don’t feel well, I think that there are so many people worse off than me,” Pat said. “I tell myself to keep going because, really, I don’t have it so bad.”
“It’s About Those Who Love You”
Thanks to her son and daughter – who continue to “live it up” with their mother every chance they get – and her entire Methodist care team, Pat also now realizes that life has nothing to do with luck. It’s about the people you fill it with.
“Don’t worry about the little things in life,” she said. “Pick your battles. Are they really it worth it? Don’t wait for a diagnosis to realize that life is about so much more than all that. It’s about those who love you. Don’t wait to start living life with them.”