American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

Sean Patrick, 1951-2009

  • In Memoriam
  • Climb Year:
  • Publication Year: 2010

Sean Patrick 1951–2009

Sean Patrick, founder of the HERA Women’s Cancer Foundation, died of complications related to ovarian cancer on January 20 at Aspen Valley Hospital in Colorado. Patrick was loved by many, and her passion for saving the lives of other women affected by ovarian cancer, and for living life to the fullest, will resound through HERA’s outreach for years to come.

Patrick founded HERA (Health, Empowerment, Research, Awareness) and the first annual Climb4Life event in 2002, while she recovered from her seventh ovarian cancer surgery. The Climb4Life series, which raises money for ovarian cancer research and awareness initiatives, takes place in Washington, D.C., Salt Lake City, and Boulder, Colorado, annually. Prior to the first Climb4Life, a friend of Patricks said, “The day you get climbers to go to an event about ovaries is the day pigs fly.” Climbers, however, attended in overwhelming numbers. HERA has funded 20 research projects aimed at increasing awareness of, and finding better detection methods for, ovarian cancer. To Patrick the challenge of climbing paralleled her fight against ovarian cancer, and she used that comparison as a catalyst for change.

“When you’re out there on a ledge and there’s a storm rolling in, you can’t just cut the line,” she would say. “You have to keep on going, and fighting.” She also said “Ovarian cancer is where breast cancer was 25 years ago. When we started talking about breast cancer, we started saving women’s lives. Our job is to start … talking about ovarian cancer.”

Born on April 5, 1951, in Peekskill, New York, Patrick graduated from Skidmore College in Saratoga, New York, in 1973, with a fine arts degree. After graduating, she took an art fellowship in Florence, Italy, and in the following years worked in New York, Oklahoma, and Colorado. In 1988 she founded the Impact Group, a strategic marketing and design firm in Carbondale, Colorado. She continued her work with the Impact Group until she was diagnosed with cancer in 1997. She had no family history of the disease.

Patrick was a climber, skier, scuba diver, and cyclist. By the time she was 46, she was climbing 5.12. With an ear for language, Patrick loved to immerse herself in the culture of a new place. She spoke fluent French and Italian.

After her diagnosis, Patrick eventually underwent nine surgeries and was a part of numerous clinical trials. Her fight with cancer for more than 11 years inspired many; in 2004 she was featured on a television special with Jane Pauley. “Cancer does not mean life is over,” said Patrick. “You can survive and thrive, do new things, and learn new skills.” Patrick will be remembered for her uplifting spirit and unflinching persistence. “Life happens, and the only thing you have control of is your attitude,” she said. “You can deal with it with a bad attitude or a good one … and life is just more fun with a good attitude.”

To continue her legacy, please make donations to the HERA Foundation, www.herafoundation.org.

Whitney Boland [A version of this tribute originally appeared in Rock and Ice magazine.]

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