Longtime Canyon Country resident Patty Rowdon had just lost her mother to cancer a few months earlier when she received the news: She had breast cancer.
Rowdon’s mother fought a 12-year battle with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, a cancer that starts in the body’s white blood cells, before contracting COVID-19 in June 2020.
“Me and my mom got COVID at the same time, and we thought she was just going to kick it, but it was that length of time that she had to be off of her meds, and then with the COVID and her immune system so depleted,” Rowdon said.
After her mother died, Rowdon decided it was time to take care of herself, going in for a mammogram she was overdue for by about a year.
It was then doctors found something unusual on her breast. After a biopsy, she was diagnosed with breast cancer.
“I was in such shock,” Rowdon said. “Just the idea of me telling my sisters — because my sisters and I are really close — I got diagnosed with breast cancer … it was hard.”
While the cancer was localized in the duct, meaning they’d caught it very early, doctors still wanted to remove it.
“Thousands of women across the United States and worldwide are diagnosed with (ductal carcinoma in situ),” said Dr. Rena Callahan, associate clinical professor of medicine, hematology/oncology, at UCLA. “And while it’s not something that is immediately life-threatening, it can’t go untreated for too long.”
Ironically enough, her mother’s oncologist became her oncologist, which both Callahan and Rowdon agreed helped to make her more comfortable.
“Patty was an incredible advocate for her mom … Patty (and her) sisters were very involved in their mom’s care and were an integral part of that, so I had seen her many times before meeting her as a patient,” Callahan said. “The fact that we already knew each other, and there was a level of trust and comfort, is one of the reasons that I really enjoy practicing in the community.”
Callahan helped Rowdon to recognize the differences in her and her mom’s cancers, rather than seeing cancer through the lens of a loved one who had cancer, realizing that every cancer is different, Callahan said.
“Patty was able to realize that her story was going to end very differently and that her positive attitude and her support system were going to be there to help her through it,” Callahan added.
As soon as Rowdon had healed from her surgery in May, she began radiation treatment, becoming one of the new Santa Clarita UCLA Health radiation oncology treatment center’s first patients.
Then after three weeks of daily radiation treatments, Rowdon celebrated her end of treatment July 27.
Those nearly five months were a whirlwind, and Rowdon said it was her spirituality that got her through, as well as her tremendous support system, which spanned from her family, including her two sisters, two brothers and husband, to her health care providers.
“I probably would have been a pile of mush if it wasn’t for him just doing everything, not wanting me to do anything,” Rowdon said of her husband Anthony’s support.
“I felt my mom and dad with me the whole time, every minute,” Rowdon added, as she held back tears.
Rowdon had lost both her mother and father recently and said she was thankful to know they were together
“She wanted to stay here for her three girls and grandkids, but I knew where she wanted to be … she missed him so much,” Rowdon added. “I don’t even know if my mom could have handled me telling her I had breast cancer, as sick as she was.”
She was also thankful of her UCLA doctors, who walked her through every step of her treatment, so while she was scared, she knew she could get through it.
“They all were fantastic,” Rowdon said. “I don’t think I could have gone through it without them.”
Rowdon said she feels blessed to have had the support system she had, and while she still isn’t feeling all that great yet, she said she’s looking forward to the next chapter: life without cancer.
“I’m ready to get my life going again,” she said.