Lynn Freehill-Maye: What was your life like in your 20s and 30s, pre-cancer?
Patti Rogers: I grew up a long-distance swimmer. Because of swimming, I had been introduced to healthy eating young. So it was a real surprise that after a lifetime of whole foods eating — that and all the exercise didn’t prevent me from getting this.
LFM: Tell me about the moment you were diagnosed.
I’m pretty sure no one else on the planet can say they were diagnosed in a Batgirl costume.
I was 41. I was on my way to pick my kids up from school on Halloween. I was merging onto the highway, got a call, and didn’t really notice that it was my OB-GYN’s office. There was a very nervous nurse on the other end who hemmed and hawed and then finally said, “Here’s the thing: You have breast cancer.” I was in this ridiculous costume with fake eyelashes and leather gloves and a sticky mask.
I made the decision at that moment not to tell anyone that day. We had 200 people coming to our house for a Halloween party. I did not tell my husband until I kicked the last neighbor out of my house and unplugged the margarita machine. I woke Batman up on the couch. He went to that place of faith, looked at me dead in my soul and said, “We’ve got this.”
LFM: What was your treatment like?
PR: It was about 15 months. I ended up doing six months of chemo and a double mastectomy, then an oophorectomy — taking out your ovaries. We had two beautiful kids, so I reconciled that. But the what-if part made me sad.
LFM: How did this affect your relationships?
My friends really showed up. I had an amazing group I call my prayer warriors. They wrapped pink ribbons around their wrists and went to Mass every Friday to pray for me. It changes you forever to know people are doing that for you.
People I didn’t even know really well would bring food and do incredibly kind things. I did have a friend who coached me that you can’t do this alone — you need people to get groceries and to drive you to doctor’s appointments and to get your pet to the groomer.
LFM: How did it alter your outlook?
PR: Once you’re faced with the fact that life is finite and these moments are so fleeting, it affects everything — how you choose to be annoyed or not annoyed, connected or disconnected. The normal things we allow to upset us are usually ridiculous. So what if the line is too long at Starbucks or the traffic is moving too slowly? Someone even being rude or unappreciative is still not something to be worried about. If this is the only day you have, you better choose well.
LFM: Is it fair to say cancer changed your career?
I would not be doing what I’m doing without cancer. Rallyhood
is a community collaboration platform that’s about transforming how people come together with purpose. We formed the company in 2010, and it took us a couple years to build the product. It’s about blending the best of social with the best of productivity tools.
When I was going through cancer, I was so inspired by community in action, but I was really frustrated by the tools available. My friends had a care calendar with an awkward log-in — nobody could get in. We were using e-mail, but your “To” list can only be so long, and we would stress over did we forget Aunt Mary? Cancer’s a long journey, and people keep coming into the circle. There’s no central place to get caught up.
Rallyhood pulls that together in a really beautiful way. We didn’t want to build a tool for sick — we wanted to build a tool for life. We’re now empowering 70,000 communities and growing fast.
LFM: What was the impact on your spiritual life?
PR: My relationship with God changed dramatically. We found solace in daily prayer and words of appreciation and gratitude. We really took to heart that our prayer and words could affect our children’s lives and how they would choose to go through a crisis. Crisis is a part of life. But having faith and connection to God made the crisis something to cherish. It opened our lives on how we should live every day.
LFM: If you could share one lesson with people, what would it to be?
PR: Look at the choices you’re making in how you fill up your life. Before cancer, I had really allowed myself to get over-scheduled. Once I got diagnosed, I had to clear my schedule completely. It became this opportunity to re-choose my day and my life and who I wanted in my inner circle. But you don’t have to get sick to get well. You don’t have to get cancer in order to make choices.
LFM: And since it’s October, what would you want the world to know about breast cancer?
PR: Don’t put off your health. Even if you’re young! I’m not a doctor, and I know there’s debate about mammograms, but the reality is you should go to your annual and really listen to your body. I’ve talked to so many people who missed things that weren’t feeling right, or didn’t trust their instinct. Even if it’s scary, go to your doctor and check.