Fighting breast cancer, she still helps others

My friend Patty Graziano stopped by with a foil pan of stuffed pasta shells. She brought the dish as a donation to a fundraiser set up by my friend Mary in advance of pending knee surgery. You can still donate here if you’re of a mind to do such a thing.

I met Patty several years ago when I was a columnist for the local newspaper. I saw her at Barnes and Noble, a place I used to haunt. Patty usually sat with a different kid each night.

Sometimes her arms gesticulated wildly. She smiled often and laughed loud. The children seemed entertained and focused.

She obviously was some kind of tutor and one with a big following. I observed her several times and never saw her with the same kid.

I approached her one night in the most awkward way.

I walked up to her table and said, “I’ve been watching you.”

Sometimes I forget how big I am, not just in girth, but in height. Patty’s eyes widened. I quickly produced my business card and photo ID to explain I was a writer who wanted to write about her.

Patty demurred. What was so interesting about a tutor?

I find the people who don’t think themselves to be very interesting often have the best stories.

She worried a story about her would result in a bunch of requests for services, but her schedule was booked.

I pressed her and she told me her story.

Patty and I became friends. When I wrote about dealing with chronic depression and anxiety, she often sent positive messages and told me stories from her own life.

I often think of Patty’s relationships with her students.

When I worked for one of the local TV stations, I booked her as a source for one of the reporters.

I suggested to one of the morning producers that they make a weekly segment with Patty, which they did last year during the school year.

Patty’s segment might have been the one positive thing I did in my brief run in TV — and all I did was suggest it. People who know what they were doing — which was never me — made it happen.

Patty marched right into my apartment and gave me a big hug. I offered to take the dish from her. She waived me off and marched into the kitchen and put it in the fridge, complete with reheating instructions.

I wobbled back to my recliner with my cane.

She plopped down on my living room floor, and we caught up.

Patty and her family recently visited Disney World. She built lightsabers and flew the Millennium Falcon with her children, nieces and nephews along for the ride.

The positivity just blasted out of her. Being in her presence is like driving west on I-235 in the early fall when the sun is setting right in your eyeline. She’s almost too bright to look at directly without wearing sunglasses.

We weren’t wearing sunglasses.

We were wearing masks.

Patty and I are both fully vaccinated.

But Patty is fighting breast cancer.

She has surgery later this month. She’s taking no chances. She doesn’t even want to get the sniffles from allergies.

She talks about the surgery with the detachment of the scientist she is, explaining the procedure and process. Yet, she never hides her humanity.

“There has been constant crying,” she told me.

Patty chooses to embrace hope.

She explained how different generations of her family reacted to her diagnosis.

Her parents, she said, are terrified. Her husband and peers, people in their 40s, are worried. But her children?

“They’re like, ‘yeah, lots of people get breast cancer and survive,’” Patty said.

The advancements in science comfort Patty. Two generations ago, her diagnosis was a likely death sentence. Now her chances of survival and remission are very high.

I like the way Patty’s mind works. I keep her in mind when I envision the kind of teacher I will be. I can’t match her energy — nothing short of a supernova could — but I will strive to match her earnestness and enthusiasm for subject, students, teaching, and learning.

Patty teaches me lessons all the time.

Her Instagram account often includes videos where she talks about the difference between frogs and toads or the parts of a flower in her garden.

The day she visited, she taught me the biggest lesson yet.

This was a woman who was facing a far greater health threat than a torn meniscus. Yet, Patty still took time to drop by and visit a friend and bring some food at that.

My eyes well up with tears just thinking about the kind of decency she embodies.

I see the hand of God in my life through the kindness that’s been heaped upon me by family, friends, readers, and often total strangers.

I worked as a newspaperman so long that my negative thoughts about humans only intensified when I wrote about what my late friend, Des Moines Senior Police Officer Dan Dusenbery, called “all the savage things that people do to each other and themselves, intentionally or unintentionally.”

By the time my career ended amidst the news industry’s obsession with online metrics, I began to think of myself as a failure, a man born too late to have done anything meaningful.

My paragraph stacks flowed out of my fingers into the keyboard and then disappeared into the cacophony of noise that is American life, sometimes hated, occasionally liked, but mostly ignored.

Then I hear from people such as Patty.

And I begin to think maybe it mattered, perhaps not on the grandiose scale I hoped it would, but still, it mattered.

If all I had to show for 27 years as a newsman was a friendship with Patty Graziano, that would be enough.

But all of you have shown it’s so much more than that.

I struggle to accept the enormity of that gift.

You’ve lifted my spirits and pushed me to keep moving forward, to be a better man, and always, always, always put love first.

Thank you, again.


Daniel P. Finney writes columns for ParagraphStacker.com, a free, reader-supported website. Please consider donating to help me cover personal expenses as I continue writing while I pursue my master’s degree and teacher certification.
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