When a race against cancer begins, thoughts of angels — and the pearly gates — take center stage.
"It's a shock," Seattle sales executive Pat Purcell remembers about the news he had prostate cancer, "and an immediate realization that you're coming to grips with mortality kind of a time out."
But the triathlon athlete wasn’t the kind of person to let the August 2011 diagnosis put him on the sidelines. From the start, he was determined to find the right path for treatment — and it began with prayer for God’s guidance.
That’s when "angels on earth" came alongside him — one already in his life, others unexpectedly.
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"The first angel was my wife Sharon," Pat says with a catch in his voice as he recalls her supportive words, "'we're going to do this together.'"
It became a team effort both emotionally and physically.
With the race against time straight ahead and the clock ticking, the thought that dogged their steps was that the cancer might spread. As they pursued a 'cure' among myriad choices, it was not only exhausting, but none seemed to be the perfect fit for an active 50 year-old with his life stretching before him.
Feeling a slight sense of defeat but still praying, a second angel came alongside.
Because of a chance conversation with a friend — and Sharon's first time to share the cancer diagnosis with others — she excitedly encouraged Pat to contact the woman's father who was a prostate cancer survivor.
It was a meeting made in heaven.
"Richard Wright was my angel that convinced me to choose proton therapy," Pat enthuses about the former U.S. Coast Guard intelligence officer who had interviewed 100 prostate survivors, and then had chosen proton treatment instead of other options.
At the time, Seattle Cancer Care Alliance was still a year and a half away from being able to provide proton therapy, although it is now available as of this month.
This meant another hurdle — a place to stay — since the 9-week treatment would be in Southern California's Loma Linda University Medical Center, the nearest facility. But when "Angel Annie" came to their rescue after countless dead-ends during their one-day condominium search in California, her condo tour was an answer to prayer.
"When we walked into the guest bedroom," Pat says almost reverently about the prospective rental, "there was a picture of Pope John Paul II in the guest room and in the master bedroom a picture of Jesus."
It was the only apartment available during the week set for Pat's proton therapy.
Since his cancer treatment in December 2011, Pat remains enthusiastic about the route he took — one with virtually no side effects. In July 2012 he completed the Lake Stevens Iron Man 70.3 — a half Iron Man — consisting of a 1.2-mile swim, 56-mile bike course and 13.1-mile run.
His health and athletic intensity remain unchanged. But his perspective on life is different as a result of his cancer experience.
But his support doesn't end there. Through Seattle Cancer Care Alliance, Pat is a resource who shares his prostate cancer proton therapy experience with men in the race — one he understands well.
These days, it's Pat who is the “angel on earth.”