Fighting Cancer with Courage: Teacher shows facing fears can help overcome disease

VAN BUREN, OH (WTOL) - Surviving cancer takes more than will and strength. It also takes courage. This is particularly true with patients with children.

But for Dana Patterson, her fight took an extra amount of courage because she had to be courageous not just for her children, but her elementary school students.

"Of course, there were tears at first. I was still teaching. I had two kids, a daughter in middle school and a son in high school," Patterson said. "So I wanted to be brave for my students and my own children."

Even though cancer runs in her family, Patterson was shocked when she learned she had breast cancer.

"It was actually one year from the day that we buried [my mother] that I found a lump," Patterson said. "I was always leary but I always thought I would be older."

Patterson had a bilateral mastectomy and started losing hair.

"After it really started coming out a lot, my sister shaved my head," Patterson recalled. "There were tears when that happened."

Despite this, Patterson continued to teach at Van Buren Elementary like she had been for decades, channeling and controlling her emotions. As only a teacher could, she read a book to her third graders to explain her condition.

"I read a book to them about a teacher having cancer and then we talked about it," Patterson explained. "And, of course, most of them were raising their hand telling me about their Grandma died of cancer, those things, trying to relate to the whole thing."

Patterson did not try to hide her fight away from her students. Instead, she used her fight as a learning experience.

"When I went down for chemo, I face-timed the third grade on our smart board," Patterson said. "I kind of talked to them and told them what I was doing when I wasn't going to be there."

Patterson is now cancer free. But while that battle is won, she continues a different battle.

Taking her role as a teacher outside the classroom, Patterson uses her experience to teach courage and how to truly appreciate the life you are given.

"I want to be happy every day because you never know when your time is up here on earth," Patterson explained. "So I want to choose to be happy every day."

Because Patterson carries a cancer gene, her children have a 50 percent chance of also being carriers. Her 18-year-old daughter is hoping to get tested soon.

In the meantime, the Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure has become a family affair ever since Patterson was diagnosed years ago.

This year, they will attend the Findlay race as an example of how facing your fears of cancer can help you ultimately beat the disease and inspire others in process.

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