By the time Pat Coffield was diagnosed with breast cancer, her mother, her maternal grandmother and four aunts had battled the disease. Now a 14-year cancer survivor, Coffield volunteers for the American Cancer Society to show other women that breast cancer doesn’t have to be a death sentence.
“The biggest thing I take away from (the breast cancer journey) is being grateful. I realized how fortunate I was to have an early diagnosis, and after I had my surgery, I made a vow to God and myself to make the journey easier for those who do encounter the disease,” Coffield said.
Coffield, of Rapid City, knew from her family history she faced a higher likelihood of developing breast cancer — although every woman is at risk. Statistics from breastcancer.org say 85% of breast cancers occur in women who have no family history of the disease. The most significant risk factors for breast cancer are simply being a woman and getting older. Statistically, one in eight women will develop breast cancer.
Coffield followed the American Cancer Society’s recommendations for mammograms and had her baseline mammogram at age 40, then diligently got one annually after that. Coffield was 62 when a mammogram detected breast cancer in its early stage.
Coffield chose to have a double mastectomy to remove the cancer and reduce the risk of recurrence. Coffield did not need radiation or chemotherapy, but she took an anti-cancer drug for five years. A goal, gratitude, excellent medical care and a strong support system were vital throughout the process Coffield calls her breast cancer journey.
“After the surgery on a Thursday, I went home on a Friday and by Saturday, I was out doing a little bit of walking. It didn’t keep me down a lot,” Coffield said. “That was in October, and I remember vividly asking my doctor, ‘Can I go on a trip I planned in March to the Holy Land?’”
With her doctor’s blessing, Coffield took that dream trip.
“The trip to the Holy Land was wonderful. What a perfect time to go after you’ve been through the breast cancer experience. I think my faith was strengthened,” she said. “I can remember as I was going through my breast cancer journey, I used Philippians 4:6-7 daily, and that gave me such peace. I felt that peace when I was in the Holy Land and from then on.”
Coffield had reconstructive surgery and has had no signs of cancer returning, she said. She and her husband celebrated their 50th anniversary in 2017 and enjoy time with their adult son and daughter, their spouses, and four grandchildren.
“I was very blessed to have wonderful support from my husband, Bill, and I had outstanding doctors — Dr. Julie Raymond, my surgeon Dr. Robert Schutz, and my oncologist Dr. Mark Schroeder,” Coffield said. “My friends were extremely supportive, and of course my family.”
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Coffield pays forward the support she received by volunteering with the American Cancer Society’s Reach to Recovery program. It offers emotional and practical support to recently diagnosed breast cancer patients.
The program matches Coffield and other volunteers with patients in South Dakota or surrounding states who are of a similar age and diagnosis. Volunteers are encouraged to contact the patients three times.
“I call and visit with them. Many, many, many times they will ask me questions and I’m able to give them the hope that they’re going to be all right, and … what to expect,” Coffield said. “It’s giving them support and letting them talk.”
Coffield also sometimes sends cards that might include an item such as a cross or an angel.
“I think the most exciting thing is to feel that I’ve given them hope and encouragement and love,” she said.
In 2014, Coffield received the Terese Lasser Memorial Award, which is named for the woman who started the Reach to Recovery program. The award is presented annually to recognize outstanding contributions to the program. At the time Coffield received the award, she estimates she’d helped about 150 breast cancer patients.
Now, that number is close to 500, Coffield said. The patients she’s helped include her own sister, who is now a five-year survivor.
Coffield’s advice to every breast cancer patient: Never give up.
“Always have hope and believe,” she said.