One of Patti’s first memories was from a hospital bed.
In 1965, the 5-year-old was brought to the emergency room after falling on a toy and cutting her chest. Two years prior, she had been diagnosed with fibrosarcoma, caught after her mother noticed a bruise and discolored skin on the right side of Patti’s chest. Now in 1965, at the Children’s Cancer Research Foundation, which would later become Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, the cut close to her tumor revealed the need for a Halsted radical mastectomy—the removal of her entire right pectoral muscle, highly unusual for a child.
“I wouldn’t be alive without the hospital’s willingness and capacity to try experimental treatments,” Patti reflects. “Many of the children who had the kind of cancer I had back then lost either an arm at the shoulder or a leg at the hip, or simply died.” Her doctor at the time? None other than Sidney Farber, MD, the founder of the Children’s Cancer Research Foundation and the “father of modern chemotherapy.”
Patti’s cancer recurred a few years later and although she received more treatment and additional surgeries throughout her childhood, she was not aware of the nature of her illness until 1978, when she was a high school senior. Her parents had worked hard to shield Patti and her three siblings from the news she had cancer, which her doctors considered terminal. They didn’t think she’d live past age 10.
In a success story similar to the original “Jimmy,” who was treated when the Jimmy Fund was first founded in 1948, today Patti is 62 and married to her college sweetheart, Matt, with three adult children and one beautiful grandchild.
As a childhood survivor, Patti was monitored over the years for any signs of recurrence. In 2003, she was referred to Dana-Farber’s Jimmy Fund Clinic, as a childhood cancer survivor, due to unusual changes in her scar tissue. Patti was diagnosed with dermatofibrosarcoma protuberans, a rare soft tissue tumor, and was soon referred to the adult sarcoma clinic at Dana-Farber. Her treatment required a re-do of the original mastectomy from her childhood, removing the tissue there and doing an extensive abdominal surgery, followed by a complex reconstruction. This time, Patti was treated by two more superstars in the world of cancer care: George Demetri, MD, director of the Sarcoma Center and the Quick Family Chair at Dana-Farber; as well as Monica Bertagnolli, MD, a surgical oncologist who is now director of the National Cancer Institute. Patti’s 2003 doctors benefitted from the pathology records kept from her initial 1965 treatment, including handwritten notes from Dr. Farber himself.
“I recovered fully and can do everything I could before—although ab exercises are harder,” Patti says. “I no longer have to deal with a prosthesis and can wear any type of blouse or swimsuit I want, which is a big upgrade to daily life!”
Even before her 2003 diagnosis, Patti was dedicated to sharing her story and giving back to others.
She volunteered with the American Cancer Society in the 1980s, when she was pregnant with her first child, to encourage women who were having mastectomies that they too could lead a happy, normal life post-mastectomy. She also became a founding member of what is now the Susan F. Smith Center for Women’s Cancers Executive Council in 2002 and named Dana-Farber and the Jimmy Fund as a beneficiary of her employer-provided life insurance policy, joining the Dana-Farber Society.
As a longtime survivor, Patti was also part of a celebration marking 50 years of the Jimmy Fund’s relationship with the Red Sox, in 2003.
“It was thrilling to go onto the field that evening. I was one of the “older” people, but I really enjoyed meeting so many other former patients,” she shares. Being a young patient in the 1960s, Patti has been aware of the Red Sox-Jimmy Fund connection “for as long as I can remember.”
This summer, she is returning to Fenway Park to share her experience with—and after—cancer as part of the WEEI/NESN Jimmy Fund Radio-Telethon presented by Arbella Insurance on August 29-30. This year’s broadcast will be celebrating 75 years of the Jimmy Fund community, which has raised millions of dollars in support of patients like Patti since 1948.
“I want the public to know the hospital’s commitment to both research and care saves all kinds of lives, and that giving to Dana-Farber makes a difference in the long term,” Patti says. “Cancer doesn’t have to be a death sentence; there are more longtime survivors like me, and if that gives a parent of a child with cancer hope, then it is worth my time.”
Your donations also supportThe Dana-Farber Campaign, our ambitious, multi-year fundraising effort to prevent, treat, and defy cancer. The Dana-Farber Campaign will accelerate the Institute’s strategic priorities by supporting revolutionary science, extraordinary care, and exceptional expertise. As a community, we have the power to create a more hopeful, cancer-free future—in Boston and around the world. Together, we can defy cancer at every turn. Learn more about The Dana-Farber Campaign and how you can get involved at DefyCancer.org.