LEE COUNTY, Ala. (WRBL) – Opelika’s first female firefighter and current Assistant Lee County Coroner Charlotte Patterson’s cancer journey is not only inspirational but could provide lifesaving data as researchers search for a cure.
Patterson’s lifelong career as a first responder has prepared her to face any emergency with calm and focus. In 2017, that mindset helped when endometrial cancer threatened her life. Patterson was ready to fight.
“I had a complete hysterectomy. I did five rounds of radiation and thought it was gone, but I kept having extreme pain in my right side. My insurance finally allowed me to do a PET scan, and cancer had spread to my psoas muscle, which is extremely rare,” said Patterson.
Patterson did 35 rounds of radiation and then moved on to chemo. However, her body experienced a severe side effect called thrombocytopenia, leaving her blood platelet levels too low, so she could not continue treatment.
“They told me there was nothing else they could do for me here, so they referred me to Dr. Charles Leaf at UAB for a possible trial treatment,” said Patterson.
Dr. Leaf and his staff at the O’Neal Comprehensive Cancer Center at UAB quickly enrolled Patterson into an experimental treatment trial. Every other week – for 13 months Patterson traveled to Birmingham from Auburn for the treatment. The experimental therapy is designed for ovarian and endometrial cancer. At best, doctors had hoped to keep Patterson’s tumor from growing and maybe shrink it.
“One night, Dr. Leath called me and said, ‘Are you sitting down?” I said, “Oh no, what do you got now?” And he said, “It’s gone.” I said, “Don’t play with me like that. He said, “It’s gone, Ms. Patterson, it’s gone.”
Twenty-two months later, Patterson remains cancer-free. She still travels every other week to UAB for treatment to keep the cancer knocked down, and she always brings lunch to share with her doctors, nurses, and other patients.
“I take meals to my doctors and nurses up there, to about 50 of them. They love to eat! They call me on Wednesdays and are like, what are you bringing today. I love doing it for them. They saved me,” said Patterson.
UAB is one of 17 U.S. sites offering the trial, and so far, Patterson is the only patient to be cured, the reason why is being studied in hopes of helping others.
Patterson has continued working as Lee County Assistant Coroner on and off during her treatment. She credits Coroner Bill Harris with helping her work out a way to heal her body while assisting the community in a profession she feels is a calling.
“When Bill found out about my diagnosis, I think he was more devastated than I was. But, he has helped me tremendously during this time of my life,” said Patterson.
Now, Patterson is cancer-free and shares her testimony with other patients in the thick of their treatment at UAB. It’s what first responders do, provide hope, light, and faith amid life’s darkest tunnels.
For more on Patterson’s story and information on her treatment, you can visit this link: Retired Firefighter experiences complete response in clinical trial, shares story for National Cancer Survivors Day