“When I was initially diagnosed. I was enjoying each day without a true understanding of limits or barriers.” – Patricia Wu
An educator and administrator, Patricia oversees education programs serving over 10,000 students in Los Angeles, California. She has committed her career to serving students in vulnerable communities, teaching students and educators that each student is more than a statistic. She is determined to apply that same mindset to how she understands her own metastatic diagnosis. Having been diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer in her early thirties, Patricia has a new perspective on what it means to be vulnerable. She strives to continue to live her life with kindness, courage, and grace.
MK: Who is Patricia Wu?
PW: I am an Asian American woman who immigrated to the U.S. as a child when my parents sought a better education for me. I graduated from U.C. Berkeley and continued my learning with a doctorate in education from USC. I am an educator who is passionate about learning. I am a daughter. I am a wife and a friend. I am a dog lover. I am a bookworm. I enjoy baking and eating even more. I am also living with metastatic breast cancer.
MK: What do you wish you’d know before being diagnosed with breast cancer?
PW: I wish I had a better understanding of how many young adults live with chronic and/or terminal illness.
MK: Do you ever wish you could go back to life as if was before breast cancer?
PW: I wish that I never had cancer. In that sense, yes, I wish I could go back to a life without cancer.
MK: How has this experience awakened you to yourself and your purpose?
PW: As a young Asian American, I challenge the image of what many people picture when they hear “cancer patient.” I am a testament to the fact that cancer does not discriminate. MBC is a disease too easily defined by statistics about prognosis and treatment. I hope people I interact with leave with a name, a face, and a story about this disease. I hope to be part of a movement to define MBC with individuals and their stories. I hope to humanize what it means to live with MBC through my story.
MK: Tell me about your advocacy work and the people it impacts.
PW: I find myself in the familiar role of being a teacher. I find myself now teaching both friends and strangers what it means to live with MBC. It is teaching others about what breast cancer is. It means explaining what oral chemo is, a CDK4/6 inhibitor or the meaning of medically induced menopause. Other times it means teaching scientists and doctors what it means to be a patient. Discussing the reality of scan anxiety or the amount of pain that comes with intramuscular injections like Flasodex. Sharing the harsh realities of living with a terminal illness and an unknown timeline, as well as a story of strength and resilience. I work with the Dr. Susan Love Research Foundation, which does wonderful work to change health disparities, particularly with their recently launched, Commit to Love Campaign. I hope to be a voice speaking on behalf of patients, like myself, that are metastatic.
MK: Which under-served demographic do you most want to impact and why?
PW: I have served as an educator in communities of color for my whole career. I do so because I believe that when we improve the lives of those most vulnerable, everyone benefits, everyone is lifted. When I became a metastatic breast cancer patient, I got a new perspective on what it means to be vulnerable. I hope to impact the experience for MBC patients and people of color. People of color are underrepresented in breast cancer research. This translates to decisions based on data that silences these voices. Voices of individuals who currently experience poorer outcomes in breast cancer survival.
MK: If there was one thing you could change about breast cancer and how people view it, what would that be?
PW: I hope that more people will begin to understand that not all breast cancer is the same. We need to have different discourse about early stage and metastatic breast cancer. The experience and outcomes are different. We can only better support one another by empathizing with one another. We must stand together if we are to change survival outcomes.
MK: What would you tell a newly diagnosed young woman?
PW: I wish you did not have to experience cancer. But please know that you are not alone. Give yourself permission to feel however you want feel and even give yourself permission to change how you feel.
MK: Has cancer changed how you see adversity?
PW: Living with MBC, is praying and hoping that each line of treatment will control the tumors for as long as possible. When it fails, then we begin the cycle again with a new treatment. We hold on to renewed hope for each treatment. Every treatment is another chance, another gift. And one day, when treatment options have run out, it will be time to say goodbye.
MK: What one word defines you?