Photograph by H. Scott Heist
Patty Silveria describes her cancer diagnosis as a sucker punch. She’d had no major health problems before being diagnosed with breast cancer in late 2010. “I was healthy, ate right, exercised,” she recalls. “I remember thinking the foundation that I thought I had has now crumbled.” But she didn’t let the diagnosis overpower her. “You can’t think the worst. A positive attitude is the only way you have to get through it.”
Doctors found the Stage 3 cancer in Patty’s left breast during an annual mammogram. She was determined to maintain as much control as possible, control over her treatment, her body and her attitude. Patty has worked as a registered nurse at Doylestown Hospital since 2006. First, she heeded the advice to be the patient, not the nurse.
Then Patty assembled a team to help her through the daunting process of defeating cancer and regaining her life. The team included a good friend who is a chiropractor, an oncology surgeon as well as an acupuncturist and a nutritionist.
Patty gained a better understanding of how the foods she eats affect her health. The nutritionist suggested special energy drinks before and after chemo to help Patty stay hydrated and to help her body heal. She had a combined 20 weeks of chemotherapy. Patty also enlisted the aid of a navigator through her insurance company to help with financial issues and short- and long-term options. She read blogs about her disease and became informed. “Get yourself organized,” she encourages. “Bring all your stuff with you to every doctor you’re dealing with. This is so you have a little bit of control.”
Patty investigated multiple organizations for treatment, but ultimately chose The Cancer Institute of Doylestown Hospital for her chemo and Penn Radiation Oncology at Doylestown for her radiation therapy. She opted to stay close to home for her comfort level as well as that of the friends she enlisted to drive her home from treatments. Through work, she already knew some of the nurses at The Cancer Institute. “No matter what, I always saw them being pleasant,” she recalls. “It never felt like I was a burden. I’ve always been impressed with that.”
Doylestown Hospital has been a member of the Penn Cancer Network for 20 years. The radiation oncology facility at Doylestown Hospital is equipped with the same state-of-the-art linear accelerator used in Penn Medicine's radiation oncology department on the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania campus in Philadelphia. Penn Radiation Oncology at Doylestown is led by William R. Rate, MD, PhD, for whom Patty has the highest praise. She was treated once a day for 30 days. Patty got to know other patients there and forged a bond, another source of support that helped her through the process. They brought in food they’d share along with their experiences. Patty finished her treatment in March 2011. When she rang the bell at the Cancer Institute that signals the end of treatment, everybody else cried, but Patty didn’t shed any tears. “I was happy,” she recalls.
Patty had learned how to be her own advocate when it comes to dealing with cancer – with a lot of help along the way. “It may feel like the healthcare system places you on a conveyor belt moving you through, but you need to stop and say ‘What is right for me?’ You need to ask for help,” she says. “Women especially think they can get through it, that they can handle anything.” One of the ways to maintain a sense of strength is to know the options and weigh different approaches. “You can’t just accept the disease and do what everyone tells you to do. You have to investigate,” says Patty. “Especially with more younger women getting diagnosed, it’s a control thing. They’re asking ‘what’s being done to me?’ and finding out what they can do.”
Patty is back to work part time at Doylestown Hospital. She says being “on the other side” as a patient has made her much more empathetic with her patients. She also teaches nursing at Bucks County Community College. She is an avid reader, and has learned how to meditate and do yoga. She works out at the gym regularly and tends to the perennial garden at the home she shares with husband, Kent, and sons Douglas and Curtis. She appreciates the life she has and tries to stay in the present moment.
Patty adds: “This experience has taught me you have to be grateful for what you have. You have to take it one day at a time. And you have to have a positive attitude – that’s your control.”