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Breast cancer patients and care providers share their stories

In observance of Breast Cancer Awareness Month, University of Minnesota Health shared stories and statements from our breast cancer patients and care providers.
(Clockwise from top left) Breast cancer care providers Susan Pappas-Varco, RN, MA, and Katherine Chang, MD, and breast cancer survivors Hannah Gartzke and Patricia Whyte all chose to share their statements, memories and stories in honor of Breast Cancer Awareness Month.

When breast cancer patient Patricia Whyte began weekly chemotherapy sessions on Wednesdays, her family declared every Wednesday a “Pink for Pat Day.”

One by one, Patricia’s family members began sending her photos of them dressed in shades of pink. One of her nephews, short on pink clothing items, simply draped a pink towel around his neck. Patricia was profoundly moved by her family’s show of support.

“I did not feel alone in my battle with cancer. It made me feel loved,” she said.

To mark Breast Cancer Awareness Month this October, University of Minnesota Health collected stories from several of our former breast cancer patients and members of our breast cancer care team. Scroll down to read their statements.

Hannah Gartzke, breast cancer survivor

“In June 2014, I was a 30-year-old graduate student in the middle of a job transition—and I was also pregnant with my first child. A few months earlier, I had felt a small lump in my right breast. After the ultrasound and biopsy, I got the call. I was diagnosed with stage II breast cancer.

"A week after the diagnosis, I gave birth to a beautiful, healthy baby girl. I knew from the start that I wanted a lifetime with her. I wanted to be there for all the firsts and see her grow up. So when I was in the hospital, I made a promise to my husband and my daughter that I would do whatever I could to get better, so that I could be there for our family.”

Hematologist/Oncologist Katherine Chang, MD

“Every breast cancer patient, every story is different. My heart breaks for the young patient whose life was unfairly cut short. I worry often about the pregnant patient who should be celebrating, but is instead confronting a new cancer diagnosis. I also take full joy in my visit with the patient who was diagnosed 10 years ago, is now cancer free, and is touring colleges with her son. They are unique, but the people I treat share a common thread, too. In the face of a devastating cancer diagnosis, they are resilient. They continue to work, continue to provide for their families, continue to strive for their life goals.” 

Read University of Minnesota Health breast cancer patient stories, and meet our breast cancer experts.

Patricia Whyte, breast cancer survivor

“Doctors discovered my breast cancer during my annual physical and mammogram in 2016. For 12 weeks I received chemotherapy on Wednesdays, so my nieces and nephews declared every Wednesday a "Pink for Pat Day." All my family members wore pink, along with pin-on buttons that a niece made for me. One of my nephews did not own anything pink, so he draped a pink bath towel around his neck. When I started receiving pictures of my family in shades of pink—shirts, scarfs, dresses, hair decorations, even photos with Sweet‘N Low packets—I did not feel alone in my battle with cancer. It made me feel loved.”

Nurse Coordinator Susan Pappas-Varco, RN, MA

“My sister was diagnosed with breast cancer, and that experience led me to become a breast cancer nurse coordinator. Fortunately, she is now healthy and leading a full life. I admire the inner strength of women facing cancer. These inspiring people and our exceptional breast cancer team bring out the best in me.”