You might expect someone to feel shocked after receiving the unexpected news that a small mass on their pancreas is cancerous. You might also expect them to sink into depression or to struggle to find reasons to smile as they consider their own mortality.
But Patricia Penner is no ordinary individual. A true model of resiliency, Patricia’s response to this news was exactly what you would expect from a country-raised, independent free spirit whose zest for life is so blinding it almost requires you wear sunglasses in her presence.
“When I got the news, I really chose to see things from the positive side,” says Patricia, who has been General Manager of Tapestry at Wesbrook Village since January 2019. “Really…what choice do you have but to face this straight on and deal with it just like you would anything else in your life?”
Patricia comes by her positive, no-nonsense approach to her cancer diagnosis – and her life in general – honestly. As the youngest of six children with 21 years between Patricia and her oldest sibling, she clearly remembers herself as an intrepid child always looking to keep busy and learn new things, likely to the detriment of a busy household with little time for a spirited young adventurer.
“I spent a lot of time with my dad at work – sometimes I think it was to get me out of my mother’s hair,” laughs Patricia, thinking back to his cozy insurance office on Hornby Street in Vancouver. “He would take a lot of time to show me around. I remember how great he was at building relationships and how well liked and respected he was.”
No doubt those days spent with dad at the office imprinted strongly on Patricia as she worked her way through many different roles that ultimately led her to a senior sales and marketing position at a large seniors’ community in Ladner, BC. Although she had no direct industry experience, dad’s example as a relationship-builder and her many jobs – everything from a baker to a bank teller to working in a funeral home – led her in the direction of a role that she now describes as being in her complete comfort zone.
“I had such a sense of ‘home’ when I joined the industry,” says Patricia, referring to the strong relationships she developed with residents and employees. “It just felt like I belonged because it reflected my strong belief in the importance of building relationships and community, something that probably links back to my family and Mennonite heritage.”
Patricia’s success in her first industry role led to senior positions, including responsibility for opening a new community in North Vancouver, BC. She describes this experience as life-changing given the enormous responsibility and the incredible hard work that sometimes involved schlepping buckets and moving tables, while at the same time, developing financial statements, hiring employees and running operations.
It was a chance meeting at an industry conference that led Patricia to Tapestry. After meeting Tapestry team members over dinner, Patricia was intrigued enough to explore a change. After a visit to the incredible community of Wesbrook Village, she signed on as General Manager and never looked back.
Patricia has continued to work while undergoing more than 10 rounds of chemotherapy, with an intensity designed for those with a Stage 4 cancer diagnosis. The punishing routine is intended to eradicate microscopic traces of any cancer cells. Patricia schedules her busiest work several days before chemotherapy when she has more energy, although it is nowhere near normal. Today she works at home in self-isolation to protect her fragile immune system from COVID-19.
Asked why she has continued to work through treatment, Patricia explains that work has been good therapy as she fights to regain full health. “The truth is, I feel so good when working. Whenever a resident or an employee showed-up at my door and asked how I was, I felt incredible. It was literally a forcefield of energy holding me up.”
While Patricia awaits her final round of chemotherapy, the only thing keeping her awake is how to keep COVID-19 out of the community. A key priority for completing her final round of treatment is to get back to the community and that forcefield that has sustained her for so many months. Community support, along with the unwavering love of her cherished husband and children, and a tight network of special friends, have made all the difference in her journey of hope and recovery.
“In times of uncertainty and stress, it’s easy to be scared,” says Patricia. “My number one piece of advice for anyone going through anything difficult is to seek information because it is so empowering. Don’t be afraid of information and to find out what you need to make the best decisions. And most importantly, keep a sense of humour. Laughter is a huge part of staying positive!”