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Woman with rare cancer gets support from Sewickley Valley

| Wednesday, March 6, 2013, 9:00 p.m.
Sewickley Herald
Dawn Patterson poses with a family photo inside her Sewickley home on Feb. 28. She died April 24 of stage IVa rhabdomyosarcoma, a rare form of cancer. Kristina Serafini | Sewickley Herald

Dawn and Bob Patterson of Sewickley always have had the desire to give back, but now the time has come for them to be on the receiving end.

And, since Dawn, 44, found out she had a rare form of cancer in July last year, she said family members have been amazed with the amount of support they have received.

She said so many people have helped in so many different ways.

When Nautika Tigner, a friend of her daughter, Rachel, found out Dawn had stage 4a rhabdomyosarcoma, a rare head and neck cancer that usually affects children, she wanted to do something to help.

Rachel, 17, a member of the Quaker Valley High School girls basketball team, had helped her friend learn to play.

“I thought, she helped me, now I can help her,” said Tigner, 15, of Leetsdale.

As her personal project for 10th grade, she organized a students-teachers basketball fundraiser at the high school gym last month that raised $255.

During halftime of a recent playoff game, Tigner handed Dawn an envelope with the money and a personal letter.

“I told her how her fight has inspired me to give back,” she said.

She was completely blown away.

“It was so touching that she did that,” said Dawn, also the mother of Bobby, 10, and Bianca, 21.

But, that's not where the support ended.

Although Dawn's husband, Bob, grew up in Sewickley, and Dawn is involved in community organizations such as Friends of the Sewickley Public Library and the Union Aid Society, she only has lived in the area for five years, and said she hasn't had much time to make really close friends.

So, when she learned she had a rare cancer that began in her nasal and maxillofacial cavities and spread to the lymph nodes in her neck, she panicked and had to figure out who she could contact for help.

She called local resident Barbara Cooley Thaw, who immediately set up and maintains a CaringBridge website,, which provides information and updates on Dawn's situation — how she is doing, when she needs help and what kind of help she needs.

The site has been visited more than 5,700 times, Dawn said

“It's great, because people want to know what's happening with me, and Bob and I can't answer all those calls,” she said.

It's also nice for Dawn's family to keep connected since they don't live nearby.

Another local resident, Anna Torrance, established a Helping Hands website where people can sign up to provide meals. To help, Torrance said volunteers first should email her at so she can log onto the site and invite them to join.

“That is huge for us. People just did it, people I don't even know,” she said.

The Quaker Valley midget football team also organized a fundraiser, and two women had a dinner that raised $3,000 for the Patterson family.

“I got a card from The Presbyterian Church, Sewickley, telling me they put me on their prayer list, and I don't even go to church there.

“I don't even know the names of all these people to tell them in person how much it means to me,” she said.

Dawn said she is amazed that support is still pouring in more than eight months after her diagnosis.

The fundraisers and meals keep coming. Offers of any kind of assistance, such as taking her children to their activities, continue, and the prayers have never stopped. Her fellow employees at PNC also have been “wonderful,” she said.

“We are so grateful that people have been so kind throughout the entire process,” she said.

She also is thankful she lives in the Sewickley area, because people not only say they want to help, they actually do help.

In addition, she said it's great for her kids to see that there “truly are good people out there, and people really do care.”

She said her children always see her and Bob's involvement in the community and hear how important it is to give from them. Bob is a member of the Sewickley Community Center Board; coach of the new Quaker Valley wrestling team and Midget Football: and soon will be involved in a new mentoring program for black males in the Quaker Valley School District.

But, now through Dawn's illness, which has included several hospital visits, struggles with the side effects of chemotherapy and financial difficulties, she said, her children have seen how others' involvement can make a difference, too. Dawn said she is expecting her chemotherapy to be done in May, although doctors recently found tumors in her brain that need radiation treatment.

Still, Dawn, who has run several marathons and half marathons in New York and Pittsburgh, has a goal to run a 5K in Pittsburgh in May and continue her active lifestyle.

“I can't wait to get better and get back out there.”

Joanne Barron is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-324-1406 or

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