Resilience in the face of a 38-year cancer journey
Pat Gruy has received six cancer diagnoses since 1978. Despite this, Pat has refused to be negative. “I don’t ever feel sorry myself,” says the Beeville, Texas native. “I never ask, ‘Why me?’ – and I never will.”
Pat’s first cancer diagnosis – melanoma — came after her partner (now husband) noticed that a spot on her back was bleeding while the pair played a doubles tennis match. “I wasn’t worried,” Pat says. “I thought it was probably just a regular mole.”
Pat’s local doctor removed the mole and sent it to a lab for testing. When they learned she had stage III melanoma, Pat’s doctor referred her to MD Anderson. “I was really afraid,” Pat says.
At that time, MD Anderson had just one building with adjacent parking. She remembers the nurses dressed in traditional white scrub dresses with coordinating caps.
Pat’s doctors were much like the ones who see her today: thorough and caring. They removed a larger area affected by the melanoma on her back between her shoulders. Pat returned home, and the area healed.
Pat soon returned to playing golf and tennis. “But cancer is a very sneaky disease,” she says. “All of a sudden, it pops up.” From a routine colonoscopy in 2006, Pat learned that she had colorectal cancer. She had surgery near her home and returned to MD Anderson to make sure the area was clear of cancer.
Then, in October 2014, a CT scan at MD Anderson revealed six tumors on Pat’s lungs. This time, the areas were inoperable. While she was receiving radiation and intravenous chemotherapy, her medical team discovered cancer in her liver and kidneys. “It was scary, but I didn’t let myself stay upset,” Pat says. “I knew I was in the right place to treat it.”
Radiation oncologist Steven Lin, M.D., Ph.D., gave her eight weeks of external beam therapy compressed into three weeks to aggressively treat all of the tumors. Her right kidney was removed in June 2015. Pat’s medical team continues to monitor a small spot on her lungs, but she still has no evidence of disease.
An optimistic outlook
In her 38 years of coming to MD Anderson, Pat has always been positive about her experience. “I never dread coming to MD Anderson,” Pat says. “I love my doctors and feel like they love me. They come in with big smiles on their faces.”
The support of her family — including her husband, Viggo, son, Bradley, daughter-in-law, Lori, and three grandchildren — has also made the journey easier. “It takes a family of loved ones to get through cancer,” she says. “After a cancer diagnosis, you appreciate life. You smile a lot more than your neighbor. It changes you inside. You love people more deeply.”
Whenever she visits MD Anderson, Pat makes it a point to talk to other patients. “I try to give them all the advice I can,” she says. “I feel like the first step to being healthy is being optimistic. I tell them what I’ve been through, and they feel better. I say have good relationships — treat your family like royalty and your friends like family. And even when you want to stay on the couch all day, you need to push yourself.”
Given her successful results, Pat eagerly tells those she knows with cancer to head straight to MD Anderson. “When I think of MD Anderson, I think of the friendliest people on earth,” she says.