Anita Patel believes her personality has undergone a transformation over the last few years. She says she once was quiet and reserved; she didn’t talk about herself much and mostly minded her own business. But now she’s eager to engage, share with others and listen.
Patel says it’s all because of her experience with cancer. Diagnosed with breast cancer three years ago, she has been on a harrowing journey. She wants to support others who are facing a cancer battle.
“That’s my passion today,” she said.
In late 2014, Patel had a regular mammogram screening. Doctors found cancer in her right breast.
"I was just in shock,” she said.
A couple months later, Patel underwent lumpectomy surgery, to be followed by chemotherapy. The surgery was successful, but she suffered a bad reaction to the chemotherapy.
“I became very, very sick,” she said.
Sores broke out in her mouth. She suffered pounding headaches and debilitating nausea. She was admitted to Spartanburg Medical Center, where she would stay for 12 days. Patel was given morphine to ease the pain. She recalls little of her stay in the hospital, but her husband, Roy, later told her that “they almost lost me.”
It took Patel nearly two months to recover, and she credits Roy’s devotion to her – “the care he gave me, the patience he had.” When she was finally strong enough, Patel underwent radiation treatment. Her body was able to handle it – but the 72 treatments were grueling nonetheless. The experience, she said, has a way of breaking a person down, both physically and emotionally.
Along the way, she bonded with caregivers at Gibbs Cancer Center & Research Institute and was inspired by other patients she encountered. “I met some amazing people who had been sick for such a long time,” she said, adding that she now feels a special connection to those who are battling cancer.
“I can see a cancer patient and recognize the features, the distance in someone’s eyes,” she said.
She goes out of her way to talk with cancer patients and to offer encouragement and understanding. It’s the kind of thing she believes is needed. As she explained it, patients clearly benefit from access to straightforward information – treatment options, what to expect when undergoing chemotherapy, and the like – but they also need the empathy that other patients and survivors can bring. “Someone fighting cancer needs more than just facts,” she remarked.
Patel’s treatment has been successful, though she has a five-year prescription for a drug called Letrozole to help prevent a recurrence. She has regained much of her strength and feels healthy for the first time since her ordeal began.
“You’ll never be the same. But it’s okay – you find another way,” she said.
And, for Patel, a big part of the way forward has to do with her desire to help others.
“That’s what makes me strong today,” she said.
Patel will share more of her story at Spartanburg Regional Foundation’s Uplifting Event on Monday, October 16. This luncheon, held annually at the Spartanburg Marriott, promotes awareness about breast cancer, features inspiring stories of survival, and raises money to provide mammography screening for women in need. For more information about the event, visit our website at RegionalFoundation.com.