The bond between Patti Dunne and her 9-year-old horse, Dante, is unmistakable. Adopted six years ago, Dante came into her life at a very difficult time, just as she was diagnosed with stage 3 ovarian cancer.
Over the next two years, Patti, a retired IBM account executive from Oakland Hills, underwent intensive cancer treatments at Alta Bates Summit Medical Center. Through it all, she leaned on Mike, her husband of 30 years, and Cooper, her 5-year-old poodle-terrier mix, for support. But she also drew comfort from Dante, spending as much time as she could riding, walking and caring for him at the Anthony Chabot Equestrian Center in Oakland.
Holistic Cancer Care
When Patti’s oncologist, Gary Cecchi, M.D., laid out an aggressive treatment plan that included chemotherapy, she appreciated his straightforward approach. But chemotherapy was very tough on Patti, often leaving her too tired to perform her daily rituals. Knowing she needed help, she took Dr. Cecchi’s recommendation to meet with Amy Matecki, M.D., an integrative medicine specialist at ABSMC.
Working with Dr. Matecki, Patti added meditation, exercise and twice-a-week acupuncture to her treatment regimen and followed the physician’s nutritional advice. Making these changes empowered Patti in her recovery process, and her symptoms improved tremendously in just a couple of weeks.
“Patti was suffering from severe fatigue and very poor quality of life,” Dr. Matecki says. “Coming to me helped her take ownership of her disease and do everything possible to help herself, including following a regimen of integrative medicine and setting a goal to ride Dante again. The difference was like night and day. Patti started feeling better quickly; she regained her energy and reengaged in her activities — including riding Dante.”
Rounds Two and Three
In 2015, only one year after completing treatment for ovarian cancer, Patti was diagnosed with a rare form of breast cancer — unrelated to her first bout with the disease. Relying on a team of physicians and staff at ABSMC to orchestrate her care and tend to her needs, Patti endured two surgeries and months of radiation, which successfully overcame the breast cancer. Just like when she dealt with ovarian cancer, Patti relied on Dante throughout this trying time.
But unfortunately, Patti’s cancer journey still wasn’t over. In 2017, just 18 months after her breast cancer experience, her ovarian cancer returned. As she faced yet another scary health challenge, Dr. Cecchi continued to recommend treating the disease aggressively. Patti opted for chemotherapy to shrink the second tumor, then underwent surgery to remove the remainder of it. Next, she began a regimen of immunotherapy drugs that she still takes today.
Currently, Patti’s scans show that she is once again clear of tumors.
“Ms. Dunne is a terrific lady, a real fighter,” Dr. Cecchi says. “She agreed to take aggressive measures toward her care, and her victory against cancer is based on her positive attitude and spirited fight.”
Patti also credits her extended care team for helping her through her three cancer battles. Along with Mike, Cooper and Dante, her network includes her sister and brother-in-law, neighbors and fellow riders and horse owners at the barn, who were always ready to pitch in with good food and company when her chemotherapy got intense. Patti went to the barn to ride every day she possibly could, but on days that her cancer treatments left her feeling too weak, she’d just groom Dante and maybe walk him a bit.
Although Patti’s health has greatly improved, she knows she is not yet in the clear. As she continues taking her immunotherapy medication and practicing self-care, she appreciates the accessibility of her medical care team at ABSMC. She is impressed by how easy it is to reach Dr. Cecchi, Dr. Matecki and surgeon Jeffrey Stern, M.D. via text or email.
“Mike had a chance at a promotion a few years ago that would have required us to relocate, but there was no way I could leave my care team in the East Bay — they are keeping me alive,” Patti remarks. “Until I know I am on a safe path, I could never leave this care family.”
Today, Patti spends plenty of time with Dante while also volunteering IT support for small businesses, including the barn. Additionally, she joined the Alta Bates Summit Philanthropy Board, a newly formed nonfiduciary advisory panel that helps with strategic fundraising across the East Bay.
“This year the philanthropy team is fundraising for CT imaging for the cancer center in Berkeley,” Patti says. “This technology will ultimately track my cancer and detect cancer throughout the community, making this personally critical work for me.”
Patti is looking forward to more leisure time with Mike, including traveling to Ireland in the fall to celebrate their 30th wedding anniversary. “I retired at 48 but have spent the majority of my time caring for sick relatives or dealing with cancer,” she says. “As my treatment concludes and we transition to regular scans, I’m excited to really enjoy retirement.”
Dante has been with me on this journey from the very beginning,” Patti says. “He is my therapy, my salvation in a way. My dad got me into horseback riding when I was 9, just after my mom died, so I suppose horses have always helped me deal with traumatic times.”