Spotlight: Patricia Zody

Caregivers at the UW Carbone Cancer Center helped Patricia Zody get back to living after a brain tumor diagnosis.

A cancer diagnosis understandably may lead to anxiety and fear, and Patricia (Pat) Zody's diagnosis was no different. Although her brain was physically affected, she has made it nearly 12 years as a cancer survivor by making sure her illness never got the best of her mind.


In 2004, Zody suffered a grand mal seizure, which turned out to be caused by -- and led to her diagnosis of -- a glioma known as grade III anaplastic astrocytoma. Her care team at the UW Carbone Cancer Center told her that her cancer has a 15 to 30 survival rate, and she acknowledges the fear that accompanied her diagnosis.


But, she says, they also told her to get back to living her life as soon as possible. In the time since her diagnosis, Zody has followed her love of language and literature to administrative and educational appointments all over the world, from Beloit College to Washington, DC to overseas.


"I benefitted greatly from taking immediate action to get back to life as normal and not to spend all of my time worrying or thinking about my cancer, and in the process I was able to prevent my cancer from taking over my life," Zody said. "I'm not sure if my approach works for everyone, but it is important that we take the time to determine what path helps us best to take on the heavy burden of cancer."


In addition to facing the possibility of death, Pat, like many people diagnosed with a brain tumor, faced a very complex journey She had brain surgery to remove the tumor, followed by 30 days of radiation therapy. She had to take anti-seizure medicine which required frequent blood tests. She lost her driver’s license due to her seizure risk, though she was eventually able to reacquire it. Perhaps even more frustrating, especially for someone with advanced degrees in Russian language and literature, is that she still has trouble finding words when speaking.


Even after 12 years, she has to receive regular follow-up care to determine if the cancer has recurred, though those MRI scans happen less and less frequently the longer she remains cancer-free.


"The basic ideas that my husband and I took away from our conversations at the Cancer Center included: 'You can spend all of your time worrying about scan results, but in doing so you have wasted that time whether or not the results are negative or positive," Zody said. "We really took this advice to heart."


Lori Hayes, MS, RN, knows Zody has lived up to this mantra. Hayes is one of Zody's nurses at the UW Carbone Cancer Center, and has been ever since Zody began treatment.


"Pat makes an impression," Hayes said. "I think of all the challenges she's been through with surgery and radiation, but she's working, she's overseas, and it's like, here's someone who has figured out how to live with her diagnosis and side effects of the tumor and treatment while still creating a forward-rich life."


Gliomas represent around 30 percent of all brain tumors, and 80 percent of all malignant ones. They range from benign grade I tumors to aggressive, metastatic grade IV tumors. Grade III anaplastic astrocytomas, like Zody's, are malignant but often are treatable with surgery, radiation, and chemotherapy. Now with a greater understanding of molecular markers, treatments can be personalized to help predict a patient's treatment and potential outcomes. Someone diagnosed today has more treatment options. At the time of Zody's diagnosis, surgery and radiation were her only options.


Hayes said unlike many other parts of the body, where the whole tumor and surrounding “normal” tissue can be removed, brain tumors do not offer that option. “It doesn't matter what grade your tumor is, so many of the side effects from the tumor, surgery and treatments are the same because all real estate in the brain is invaluable,” she said.


For this reason, the UW Carbone Cancer Center hosts a brain tumor support group every third Tuesday of the month, and on April 23, they are holding their annual brain tumor workshop to provide empowering information to people living with or affected by brain tumors. The event is free and open to the public.