- Special Sections
- Public Notices
As a truck driver, Patti Hodge has seen just about everything — animal migration in Wyoming, the plains of Montana, hot springs in Idaho, where the ocean meets the sky in California and the Blue Ridge Mountains throughout neighboring states.
But, her adventures were cut short when she was diagnosed with Stage 4 breast cancer last year.
For the past year-and-a-half, her days have been filled with treatments, sickness and numerous trips to cancer centers. With hospital bills that amount to $300,000, and two insurance companies refusing to pay for some of it, she and her husband had to move from their three-story brick home with a two-car garage and a big yard in Galax to a small, yard-less house in Fries.
She and her husband, Michael, were trucking partners for eight years until she was diagnosed with breast cancer at age 42.
For eight years, they saw each other almost every day. Now, trying to make ends meet, he stays on the road, sometimes three weeks at a time.
“I loved my job, and I really miss it,” said Hodge, of WLA trucking company in Mount Airy, N.C. “And when he leaves for the road, that hurts the most.”
Even tough they had been everywhere and seen everything together, there was one thing that was still left — Niagara Falls.
“We hadn’t had a vacation in a long time,” said Hodge. “With all that we have been through, we needed one. And we had seen about everything in the country except for the falls.”
When Hodge was at the Cancer Center of America in Philadelphia, another patient told her about Making Memories Breast Cancer Foundation, which grants wishes to Stage 4 breast cancer patients. Hodge went on the website and applied.
“The tragedy of this illness is not merely the physical and emotional burden, but also the enormous financial strain it places on a family,” according to the foundation’s website. “When insurance benefits are exhausted and mounting medical expenses deplete bank accounts, there is often little or no money left for special memory-making moments...
“The wishes and memory-making events we bestow allow the individual and their family the opportunity to put aside the realities of this illness, if only for a time, while basking in the joy of one another’s presence.”
The week of Sept. 13, Hodge’s wish was granted — she and her husband drove to Niagara Falls and stayed in a hotel that overlooked the falls. Making Memories took care of the gas and the hotel.
“It was like, wow,” she said. “It was so beautiful. It was cold, but awesome.”
The Hodges invited a couple of friends from New York while there — another breast cancer patient that Hodge met at the cancer center in Philadelphia.
Because of her illness, Hodge has broken her ankle three times — including while on their trip — and is wheelchair-bound.
“We were having a great time until I fell and broke my ankle,” said Hodge.
Spending the last night on vacation in the emergency room, Hodge missed the fireworks show.
She hopes to one day see the falls frozen over during the winter and to see Alaska in the spring.
Hodge found a lump in her left breast in 2004 but was told she had nothing to worry about. From then on, she suffered from fatigue and was constantly tired.
She received a mammogram every year since then — all coming back with negative results.
But on Jan. 30, 2010, she found that the lump had grown. She jumped out of the shower and called the doctor, who told her to come in immediately.
On Feb. 8 that year, she was diagnosed with Stage 4 breast cancer after undergoing a PET scan at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center in Winston-Salem, N.C.
“When I was diagnosed, I felt like I died that day,” she said. “By the time they found it, it was too late. It was already in Stage 4. I was told that I had cancer for about 10 years.”
Hodge found that she also had the HER2 gene, causing the cancer to progress at a much faster rate.
Soon after being diagnosed, Hodge had a mastectomy.
“It’s one of my worst nightmares come true,” said Hodge. “I spend a lot of nights crying and screaming. This has been a real shock for all of us.”
She has had 13 radiation treatments, four chemotherapy treatments, made 96 trips to Winston-Salem, spent 12 weeks in a hotel in Philadelphia and has nearly lost everything.
Hodge recently elected to not undergo anymore treatments.
To keep her mind off her illness, Hodge has been volunteering for a couple of non-profits, she said, as she shows some of the crocheted hats she made for other cancer patients. She has crocheted 500 hats that have been shipped out to cancer patients all over the country.
And as the mother of a U.S. Army soldier, she recently began working with Operation Gratitude, which ships and assembles care packages to those in military service overseas. She makes hats and scarves for troops.
“I’ve met a lot of soldiers and feel like I’ve adopted many of them as many sons,” she said. “Those boys deserve so much after going through the horror they’ve gone through.”
Hodge has two sons — one stationed overseas in the army, another that lives in Galax — three grandchildren and another on the way.
As she wipes tears from her eyes, she said the hardest thing is leaving behind her family.
“My trip wouldn’t have been possible without Making Memories, Trinity Baptist Church has helped a lot, and if anyone were to ask where would be the best cancer center to go to, I would say Cancer Center of America in Philadelphia,” she said.
Hodge said she’s hoping schools start educating about breast cancer awareness.
“I’m the first in my family to have it,” she said. “I just hope and pray schools educate on the subject.”
• For more information about the Making Memories Breast Cancer Foundation, click HERE
• For more information on breast cancer, click HERE