Ten years later, Becky Patek says breast cancer turned out to be a little bump in the road.
Since then, three friends were diagnosed with breast cancer.
They all died.
“I wonder why I lived. I also wonder if my attitude helped,” she said.
The former teacher – now a personal banker for Commerce National Bank’s University Branch in College Station – found a lump in one of her breasts about the size of a marble.
“I pretty much knew it was cancer,” she said, even though she had no history of breast cancer in her family.
“Then I got online, which is horrible – it described it like a large marble and said it might feel like a marble,” Becky said.
She called her doctor’s office at 8 the next morning.
Becky was sent to a surgeon.
“He was very blunt, which I liked,” she said.
A biopsy was done and Becky was told they could do a lumpectomy but they found two different types of tumors and she needed a mastectomy.
The surgery was done the day she got out for Christmas break and she was back in the classroom two weeks later.
That’s when she started four months of chemotherapy, followed by six weeks of radiation.
“The clinic was really good. I would come in at 3:30 and get out by 6. The next day you’re OK and work on Friday. The second day you felt like you had the flu and sick on the weekend, but you’d feel good enough to go back to work on Monday,” she said.
She found strength from how she was raised and she needed it to be strong for her children – who were both in high school at the time.
“My dad was a teacher and I don’t remember him ever staying home sick and he had two jobs. Mom kept the house clean and had a healthy meal on table every day even when we didn’t have much,” Becky said.
“I told my kids people don’t die from cancer nowadays and they handled it well – even though I knew it was not completely true. I was not sure if I would live, but I believed I would and was going to fight this,” she said.
Becky said even when she was not feeling well at home, if she heard her son’s truck, she got up, got dressed and acted “not like I was feeling.”
Becky’s had no problems since she finished her post-operation treatments.
She thinks her cancer was caused by not eating right, work-related stress and her father’s death.
“A combination of everything caused my cancer,” she said.
She also had to be strong for her students – high school seniors.
When she lost her hair from chemo, her students wanted to know what chemo was.
One of her students had a hideous wig from a Shakespeare comedy they did.
“He said, ‘I hear your hair is going to fall out and I have a wig’ – the students loved it,” she said.
Sometimes, Becky said, she’d “pull both sides of my hair and say ‘you’re making me pull my hair out.’”
Her students told her she made the ordeal fun and made them more comfortable with the situation, she said.
Becky ended up wearing a long wig because she didn’t want people to think about her cancer and “people forgot about it.”
She also inspired some of her colleagues.
“Some said they didn’t feel like going to work but if ‘Becky was doing chemo and going to work, I can too,’” she said she was told.
A year later she had reconstructive plastic surgery.
“I wasn’t married and I hated looking in the mirror and seeing myself broken. So plastic surgery really helped,” she said.
The work was so good, she said, when she goes in for mammograms, the technicians can’t tell.
After teaching for 28 years, it was time for a change.
She saw more rudeness from students. She tried teaching at private school, but she needed something different and joined Commerce National Bank about a year ago.
“It’s a calm setting. I like the branch where I work. People are happy and we respect each other,” said Becky. “And since we’re a small-town bank we get to know our customers and ask about their kids.”
Barbara Pratt, banking officer/customer service manager and Becky’s supervisor, said, “Becky is a team player and has a positive, friendly attitude. She tackles any project and takes the lead – she’s not afraid of a challenge. She is dependable and treats everyone with respect. Becky works hard and gives it her all in everything she does.
“She has been a single parent for many years and along with that challenge she had cancer. She knew she had to be strong, no one could get her through this but herself,” she added.