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Clergywoman solicits help in breast cancer fight


The Rev. Sheron C. Patterson (left), along with Denise Johnson Stovall, enjoys her birthday tribute May 6 at the Women's Museum in Dallas. Patterson, recently diagnosed with breast cancer, has started a new ministry on breast cancer awareness. A UMNS photo by Deanna R. Stovall.

By Denise Johnson Stovall*
May 24, 2007 | DALLAS (UMNS)

The Rev. Sheron C. Patterson, senior pastor of Highland Hills United Methodist Church, tells her flock all the time to "walk by faith and not by sight."

But it took a battle with breast cancer for her to prove that she can practice what she preaches.

Patterson announced in an April 12 letter to her congregation that she had breast cancer.  "It is in stage one, which is a blessing," she wrote. "I will not need chemotherapy or radiation, but I will require surgery. My surgery will be May 8th."

With the surgery behind her now, Patterson said "a lot of pain is involved" and she has been "just resting and being still during the healing process." She continues to "rely on Psalm 27: 'The Lord is my light and my salvation - whom shall I fear? The Lord is the stronghold of my life - of whom shall I be afraid?'" for strength.


 The Rev. Sheron C. Patterson

The wider public found out about Patterson's cancer during a speech she gave April 21 at Methodist Hospital in Dallas.

Later, 193 women rallied around her and gave her a "Love Tea" at the National Women's Museum at Fair Park in Dallas, to celebrate her May 6 birthday and to wish her well.

The tea was coordinated by Earnestine Cole, "health wise columnist" for a local newspaper, Elite News. The women also gave love gifts totaling $1,109. Patterson thanked supporters who helped her go into the surgery "thus far by faith and not by sight."

"I don't know how she did this, but this was phenomenal - getting all these people here and my doctor, Dr. Michael Grant," Patterson said. Grant is a surgical oncologist of the Charles Sammons Cancer Center, Baylor University Medical Center, Dallas. "I didn't know a thing!"

"The 'Love Tea' was a wonderful way to wrap our arms around Sheron and support her, as well as remind each other that we have a responsibility to take care of ourselves and each other," said Mary Brooke Casad, director of connectional ministries for The United Methodist Church's North Texas Annual (regional) Conference.

"Sheron struggled with how to deal with her illness but has found strength and purpose in using it as an opportunity to educate and encourage others," Casad said. "It's very much in keeping with the message of empowerment she preaches!"

The Patterson Pledge

Patterson has used her dilemma to start a new ministry on breast cancer awareness.

"I have asked women to go to www.DrSheron.com and take the Patterson Pledge to help me on my journey," she said. "I vow to:

  • Get a yearly mammogram (if you are over 40. Women under 40 should perform monthly self examinations).
  • Eat healthy.
  • Exercise.
  • Think positive thoughts.

As of May 22, about 1,000 had signed the pledge. Patterson is seeking 8,000 from across the country to take the challenge. "But don't just take the pledge. Do it!" she said.

"My breast cancer journey can be a blessing for your life if you let it. I will take the Patterson Pledge to take care of myself," she added.

Sorrow and disbelief

When she was diagnosed with breast cancer following a mammogram last December, Patterson "felt anger, sorrow and disbelief. I thought I was going to die. I had just buried a young woman who died of cancer a few days earlier." She kept her illness a secret from everyone except her husband Robert Patterson Sr. She didn't even tell their two sons, Robert Jr., 19, and Christian, 14.

"I was not ready to talk," she said. "Plus there was not a history of cancer in my family. This is a journey for anyone. For me it was a mammogram, the biopsy, the lumpectomy. This thing had to unfold. I became two persons - the public one who was taking care of everybody and the private one who was grieving."

In addition to shepherding a church, she is also a nationally known relationship expert and author and founder of The Love Clinic, a contemporary Christian relationship institute dedicated to healing the hurts of young adults. Since its inception in 1995, The Love Clinic has produced seminars, a best-selling book, college tours, a summer camp for teens and a Web site. 

After her diagnosis, Patterson said her "faith was shaken and wrought" because she'd observed the effects of chemotherapy. "I go see people who have cancer and have had chemotherapy and they die. I thought I was going to die," she said. She eventually decided to have a double mastectomy and reconstructive surgery. "If it's in one breast, it may appear in the other later," she said.

Sharing the news

The wider public found out about Patterson's cancer during an April 21 luncheon at Methodist Hospital. She first revealed her cancer to Cole, prior to speaking at the luncheon, because Cole could not remain for the message.


Robbye Williams (left) and Mary Brooke Casad applaud a musical number at the "Love Tea." A UMNS photo by Denise Johnson Stovall.

"I asked Sheron to tell me what she was going to talk about, which she said was taking care of the temple (body), taken from 1 Corinthians 6," Cole said. "And then I heard her say, 'At the end of my speech, I will tell them about my breast cancer and my upcoming surgery on May 8.'"

The news "shocked me so much so that I had to hold my head down and repeat John 3:16 several times, to fight back the tears," Cole said. "A sharp pain started at my fingertips and stopped at my elbow, which forced me to drop the pen.

"Sheron kept talking in a calm voice about how she couldn't talk about being diagnosed with breast cancer at first because she was in denial, and then I heard her say, 'There is victory, they caught it in the first stage.' My body returned to normal, and when I looked up at Sheron, she was concerned about me."

Watch out for weeds

The day after her public announcement, Patterson preached a sermon titled, "When Weeds Get in Your Garden." It was based on Mathew 13:24-30, the parable of sowing good seeds.

"That's what happened to me in this breast cancer situation," she said. "You know me, little Miss Health. I tell you to eat right, and live right; I drink all the water, eat all the vegetables and the fruit. … I tell you to get up and go to the gym. But despite the best efforts, I still got some weeds in my garden. And what was so amazing was that breast cancer was not even in my family. It just showed up!

"But no one could have known this would happen. Who would have known that while I was sleeping, weeds would get into my garden?" she said.

Members of Highland Hills answered the call of their senior pastor during the conclusion of the sermon, when she said, "God told me to run on and see what the end's going to be. Will y'all run with me?"

The congregation shouted, "Yes!"

*Stovall is a freelance writer in Dallas.

News media contact: Linda Green, (615) 742-5470 or newsdesk@umcom.org .

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