Pat Hartley

A nurse reaches out for help when she gets breast cancer

Photo of Pat Hartley
It didn’t matter how much experience and knowledge I had about cancer. I was in shock.

Pat Hartley, 73, had a long and fulfilling career in healthcare. As a nurse educator at a college in Vancouver, she prepared and mentored future generations of nursing students for jobs in hospitals and other healthcare settings.

That’s why Pat was surprised when, at the age of 65 and unexpectedly diagnosed with breast cancer, she didn’t know what to do or where to turn. “I had seen many breast cancer patients and many mastectomies. But when it’s you, it’s so different. It’s surreal,” says Pat. “There are so many decisions to make and so much information to digest. It didn’t matter how much experience and knowledge I had about cancer. I was in shock.”

Pat’s breast cancer diagnosis – found by a routine mammogram and follow-up biopsy – was ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS). Because the cancer was aggressive, Pat’s oncologist recommended mastectomy as soon as possible (surgical removal of the entire breast).

“I was familiar with some of the terminology, but some of it was new to me. I was given a huge package of information with medical terms and statistics, and was told to make up my mind within a few days which specific type of surgery to opt for,” she says. Pat and her husband took the information package home and started reading.

In that information package, Pat found the phone number of the Canadian Cancer Society and she gave them a call. “The woman I spoke to was fantastic,” says Pat. “She put me in touch with 4 other women who had had to make the same types of decisions about breast surgery. They were incredibly helpful and made my decision so much easier. These volunteers also gave me lots of tips about how to take care of myself after the surgery.”

Pat has great respect for the Society’s information and support services. “I often think about the people diagnosed with cancer who don’t live in big metropolitan centres and don’t have access to as many resources,” she says. “No matter where you live in Canada, you can call the Society and get personal and expert information for free. It’s an amazing service and the information specialists are so skilled.”

A year after her surgery, she decided to become a volunteer with the Society. “It’s very rewarding to be a listening ear and to give people hope when they’re scared and don’t know what to do.”