Climb for Life

Original Airdate: 
January 2012

Sean Patrick gathered a community, became a catalyst for change, and continues, even after her death, to inspire the critical quest for ovarian cancer research and awareness.

As an athlete who was used to trusting her instincts and her body, Sean had been looking for the cause of debilitating symptoms for years. After many "missed" diagnosis came the answer - ovarian cancer.

Once diagnosed, ovarian cancer is fatal in over 80% of women's lives. A significant factor in the grim statistic is the lack of early detection and easy misdiagnosis of symptoms.

Sean took her diagnosis - and lack of diagnosis - and addressed its social and political implications. She drew from experiences of living "in the danger zone" as a rock climber and sought new ways to empower women to take control of their lives and their health. Climbing became her metaphor, not only for dealing with life-threatening situations but also for empowering women to become an active partner in their lives and in their health. She used this parallel as a catalyst for change.

In seeking her own answers, Sean Patrick would touch the lives of countless people. From cutting edge medical researchers, committed surgeons and world-renowned medical institutions that have been influenced by Sean - to athletes and their communities that have embraced and championed her cause - to women and their families sobered by their own diagnosis - Climb for Life: A Legacy will explore the life, the search and the legacy of Sean Patrick.

When she was diagnosed with terminal ovarian cancer at age 46, Sean Patrick approached her illness with the same single-minded focus that she used in rock climbing. The obstacle was not an end to a journey but a new beginning.

Sean told those around her that the lessons she learned from climbing helped her affirm life, rather than confirm death. She told them, "You take calculated risks, break down obstacles into manageable problems, and face them head on. You prepare, you plan, you do your research, you're not foolish. You find the best possible route. Your goal is to have the best possible experience. You have the right partner (doctor), because that partner is your lifeline. You celebrate the power of your life."

In living her life to the fullest, Sean Patrick inspired a generation of women to better manage their health. In the process, she elevated public awareness and fueled support for research of ovarian cancer. She could not save her own life, but she lifted the fortunes of others.

Ovarian cancer is one of the hardest cancers to diagnose. While not as common as breast cancer, it is far more deadly. Since there are no early detection tests, by the time it is diagnosed it is generally in stage III or stage IV, with an 80 to 90 percent mortality rate. Most women have symptoms, but many of the symptoms are easily dismissible - abdominal pressure, bloating or discomfort; unusual fatigue; nausea indigestion or gas; shortness of breath; back pain; unexplained weight loss or gain - all things that are common for women. They may suspect that something is wrong, but believe the symptoms are a normal part of being a woman. Doctors, too, may dismiss symptoms.

Sean was a self-described type A personality. She skied and mountain biked, she was an artist, and a businesswoman, as well as a climber. She knew something was wrong, but doctors told her it was nothing. They advised her to get a hobby because she was too type A. They told her she was depressed. They prescribed Valium. But Sean was insistent that something was wrong. At one point she took legal action to have a biopsy done, saying she knew she needed the test.

"She did the research herself and became very educated about it," says KUED producer Carol Dalrymple. "When they found out what it was, it was late stage III, which has a high mortality rate. At one point she was Life-Flighted to Johns Hopkins Medical Center, where she was told her she had six weeks to live. But she wanted to live. She ended up living 12 years with the disease. What she did upon receiving the diagnosis was remarkable."

Sean was determined to make sure other women did not go what she went through. She wanted to put a new face on ovarian cancer. She launched the "Climb4Life" fundraising series bringing together athletes, cancer survivors and those who have been affected by cancer to increase community awareness of ovarian cancer and the need for cutting-edge research and early detection.

An active participant in her own treatment, she became involved with research, joined clinical trials and became very involved with her physicians' work. "She really was an influential force," says Dalrymple. "When I went to Johns Hopkins to conduct an interview, their P.R. person grabbed my hand and said, 'We just loved Sean Patrick here, she was a big influence and we're so happy you're here to tell her story.'"

Sean founded the HERA Women's Cancer Foundation with a mission to stop the loss of mothers, daughters, sisters, grandmothers, aunts, wives, partners and girlfriends from ovarian cancer and to empower women to take control of their health. Developed on four guiding initiatives - Health, Empowerment, Research and Awareness - the HERA Women's Cancer Foundation this year celebrates its tenth anniversary.

"Her legacy is a remarkable one," says Dalrymple.

27 minutes
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