Pat Wetzel


culturallyours podcast Pat Wetzel Cancer Road Trip

CulturallyOurs Podcast Cover Karthika Gupta Oct 2018
Season 03
Pat Wetzel
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Show Details

In this episode we explore Lifestyle as I chat with Pat Wetzel. Pat shares her life journey before and after her cancer diagnosis and how she did not let cancer stop her from living life. Pat is in remission for now but shares how travel really helped her heal and get her back on track to enjoy and appreciate life. So in order to help others with the gift of travel and adventure, Pat stated the Cancer Road Trip, an organization that gives the gift of travel to those who are affected and impacted by cancer.

Show Notes

Karthika interviews Pat Wetzel, a cancer survivor and wellness advocate who shares her life pre-cancer and post-cancer. Pat is an incredible inspiration when it comes to dealing with life’s adversities. She shares how she did not let her diagnosis and her life journey from getting her down. Instead she focused on her love for travel and used it to help her heal. Now she has taken that concept and created an organization called Cancer Road Trips that helps people dealing with cancer with the gift of travel and adventure.

The Transcript

Karthika: Welcome Pat, thank you so much for joining me on Culturally Ours. I am really excited to have you on the podcast and I cannot wait to chat with you and get to know you a little better.

Pat: I’m looking forward to this too.

Karthika: Absolutely. So let’s begin. Could you tell us a little bit about sort of who you are, where you are from, just to help set the stage for this conversation?

Pat: Oh, that’s an interesting question. I think I’ve lived several lives in this lifetime. Let’s see. I started off working in financial markets in New York way back when, worked in some acquisition, divestiture analysis, international strategic planning. I married, I divorced, I became a pilot just for fun. Partly because the flying I was doing, I was flying sail planes and Lake Tahoe is one of the best places in the world to fly. And then cancer entered my life and took me off in a rather rogue direction.

Karthika: How did it all unfold and what were you going through with cancer?

Pat: Well in 2009, I was diagnosed with what I was told was an incurable but manageable cancer at Stanford. They told me that essentially, they would have three or four options they could offer me, but I really needed to just kind of hang in there until research came around. I pursued, traditional medicine in addition to totally changing many things in my lifestyle. And the last round of Chemo I finished on October 31st, 2013 and I had good blood tests since. So, I guess the medical profession would call it a remission. I live day by day and I’m very grateful. And you know, fingers crossed, everything is good from now on.

Karthika: Since then you’re actually doing something quite remarkable. Could you talk to us a little bit about your latest endeavor Cancer Road Trip?

Pat: It’s an amazing project. Let me go back and give you a little bit of the backstory so you can see how this evolved because people ask me, how did you come up with this? And it isn’t that I came up with this idea out of the blue one day. It really evolved out of a number of events. In 2009 when I was diagnosed with cancer, I became very interested in anticancer health. I asked myself what can I do? What do I control in this crazy situation? And going through all the research and the emotional aspects of it, I started another website called And over time this gave me a global network in the cancer community of people who were talking about life after cancer, the social and psychological aspects as well as the practical things that you could do to hopefully steer your course through this disease. I started that site and I also designed simultaneously a platform, an app, if you will, that modeled and rewarded human compassion. I called it Think TLC – think tender loving care. I went down to Silicon Valley to line up some investment money for it. They told me to put together a beta platform. So I hired a company affiliated with the investor group and they provided me with nothing. But they did take all my intellectual property, registered it with the patent offices as their own and then refuse to talk to me. It was hundreds of thousands of dollars. It was all my work over the last seven or eight years. It was a major road bump. My lawyers told me it would cost me at least half a million dollars and three years of my life to fight this. And there were no guarantees. Intellectual property theft apparently happens all the time. It is not unusual. I had to close everything down. I had to lay people off. One person filed for bankruptcy. I had to sell my house and I found myself homeless with cancer. And I didn’t really know where I would go or what I would do. I just knew that I needed a major reset. Some friends up in Washington were kind enough to lend me a house for a bit. And from there I just started traveling. And as I traveled, I reflected and I thought, and I watch my own progress and what I saw was that travel provided a bubble, if you will, and an arm’s length way perhaps of looking at things. It allowed you to see different people, cultures, situations, test your own habits against all of that. And what it really came down to was that travel has a marvelous capacity to heal. And if I can have a road trip to heal, why can’t others? And that’s where the idea of the Cancer Road Trip retreats came from. The blog, cancer road trip, had already been started, but it evolved into the idea of giving healing retreats to others. So, I went back to my global cancer network and I started calling some people. I told them about the idea, and everybody wanted to be involved. So, if you go to the website and you look under guides, for example, the people were involved in this are just amazing. What we are doing is ramping up to give away a fantastic retreat to seven people impacted by cancer. Every quarter we’ll bring them together with my leaders in mind, body medicine, and we’ll capture it on film for education and inspiration.

Karthika: That sounds absolutely fascinating and so wonderful for somebody going through this terrible sort of experience. My mom passed away to cancer, my sister is a survivor. So I’ve played the role of a caregiver in both instances and it is quite a bit. Travel is such an amazing way to take a break, to reconnect with the rest of the world, and to have those experiences. So it sounds absolutely amazing, Pat. Now travel has been a huge part of your life. And you touched upon this a little bit, but can you share, some stories or experiences or even people that you’ve met through your travels that have had an impact on you, your lifestyle or maybe more importantly your mindset?

Pat: You know, one of the interesting things is that wherever I go, almost everybody I meet has been touched by cancer. I’m not unique, 40% of us will have a cancer diagnosis. So this is something that almost everyone has had some direct experience with. Recently I spoke to somebody I’d met through Twitter, actually another blogger and her husband had died of cancer. And we got talking and she was feeling just kind of a little down about things. And after we finished the conversation, she stopped and she said, thank you. You’ve really given me motivation and re-energized me. And that touched me very deeply because I know what it’s like. I think we all know what it’s like when you’re a bit down or you’re just don’t have that energy or that drive and you need something to spark you. That moved me a great deal. I meditate every day. I’ve been meditating for 10 years or so and I’ve learned to be reflective and watch as opposed to just be reactive. In doing that I see things with so much more compassion I think than I used to. And I think that’s an interesting feedback for learning as well. The more we can calm ourselves in in a way. the better we are at putting out stuff in the world. Cause otherwise it’s just as frenzied, it’s like chaotic. It’s like we don’t know where we are going, what we are thinking and that’s the energy we put out. If we are a little bit controlled, we are a little bit put together in a way from a mental perspective that showcases itself out there too.

Karthika: Now what are some of your mottos or mantras in life, Pat? Or maybe another way to put this as like what motivates you and drives you to do the things you’re doing with cancer road trip, but otherwise in life as well?

Pat: The things that drive me are probably adventure. I love a sense of adventure. Some challenge. Gratitude is a major part of my life. Every morning I wake up and I find five things to be grateful for before I sit down and meditate. And I believe very strongly in the power of gratitude. I think those are the things that really keep me going and in creativity. I really enjoy the creative aspects of a trip and it can go in so many different directions.

Karthika: Now that reminds me of a question I wanted to ask. So you mentioned this about the cancer road trips where seven people get to go on a trip, right? How is it funded? Is it all to donations or sponsors? How does it work?

Pat: That’s a great question. Right now we’re raising money through grants, foundations and we’re also talking to corporate sponsors to help fund this because we need a lot of in kind needs like travel, transportation, things like that. But we also have a part of the website which is relatively new, where we take donations. We are able to take donations because the New Mexico Film Foundation is our fiscal sponsor for this retreat. They are a 503c, and we operate under their umbrella. For donations, a company or an individual can just leave any amount. But what we’d really like to do is get people involved in the project. So if you’ll make a recurring donation for as little as a dollar a month, you can leave some inspiration to somebody who might be dealing with cancer and we’ll put it in the credits on the film too.

Karthika: That sounds wonderful. Now you have a lot going on in your life. How do you balance all these things, your health, your business, your own aspirations? How do you make everything work?

Pat: I balance things very imperfectly. There aren’t really clear lies between my business, my life. I eat well obviously. I meditate, I work out. I live in a beautiful place. I’m in Santa Fe, New Mexico, and it’s extraordinary. I am outdoors a lot working out. I find that this project for me, it’s part of my heart and soul and it’s been self motivating. I wake up in the morning, ready to roll.

Karthika: Now if you’re open to sharing with us, and you touched upon this earlier too, what have been some of the more beautiful seasons of your life and on the flip side, slightly harder seasons and what have those seasons taught to you?

Pat: Oh, interesting question. I would say the harder seasons would be spring, if you will. Being young is hard, at least it was for me. I think I was oriented towards pleasing people. I didn’t really know where I fit or belonged. And even though I had what sounded like great jobs, it wasn’t a good match, really fundamentally a good match for who I am. I’m 62, so I would consider fall or a later season of life more enjoyable. It’s just fantastic. I am a little more seasoned. I find myself to be at least much more of my own person. I don’t really care about what anybody says or thinks I’m true to myself and I think that’s a good place to be.

Karthika: Okay, so Pat, what advice would you give somebody who wants to move towards a more sort of impact driven purpose in their own lives? I mean, how can they do this honestly for themselves and for others?

Pat: Well, I don’t want to say it’s a hard transition, but it’s a transition that doesn’t happen instantly. I think it has to be driven from your heart and your soul. You have to look within and find things that really resonate with you and then you have to stumble towards that as a goal if you will. You’ll make some wrong turns and somethings will go right, but over time you’ll figure out if you’re on a path that is right for you. And if you are, things will start to evolve. At least that has been my experience. It has not been instantaneous or overnight and it just continues to grow and become richer and reach more people. But again, it’s step by step and sometimes, you know, two steps forward and one step back.

Karthika: What has been your sort of biggest Aha moments in life? And I’m talking throughout your life journey. Not just the past few years, but if you could kind of share some of those narratives with us.

Pat: Let’s see. Two come to mind. The first one, in 1995, I took my sail plane cross country, and this is before the Internet. So I didn’t really research things. I was flying by the seat of my pants. Now keep in mind a sail plane goes in a trailer, you go to an airport, you fly, you land back there, hopefully, and you continue on. I was wandering across the country. I don’t really necessarily know what’s ahead of me. I totally stumbled upon the Badlands in South Dakota and ended up helicoptering over it with some helicopter pilots, which was pretty cool. I got to Ashland to the Shakespeare festival and got to see for McBeth a front row seat, just pure luck. And intermission came around and I went out during intermission and I sat there, on a stone wall as I recall, and just watched the crowd. And what I saw were all these, the way I perceived at the time, people wearing masks. They were wearing social masks, the way they dressed, the name of their position or their profession, all the external things that seem to define them. And for some reason I just looked through all that and I thought, why are you wearing these masks? And it was just one of those kind of Aha moments that kind of stuck with me in terms of trying to meet people as opposed to maybe what they are wrapped up in. And then another one, which was a totally on the other end of the spectrum. I find myself sailing one day over Lake Tahoe and the plane has about 50 feet of wingspan. It’s huge, and it has winglets at the end of the wings, which are these little vertical pieces that stick up. You see them on commercial airliners and they’re there for greater stability at low speeds, among other things. Anyway, I crank the airplane up, on its side and the entire plane balanced on a bubble of air under this little wing lit and this bubble of air, thousands of feet into the sky over the turquoise blue of Lake Tahoe. It was like a moment of total oneness and eternity. It was spectacular.

Karthika: Oh wow! So do you fly still?

Pat: No, I don’t fly. A few years ago I sold my plane. She went to a very good home. I had more than a few close calls of my own and it was just that my risk parameters were changing as I got older. It was time to do some different things.

Karthika: Right. Now, if you could give some advice or life lessons to a younger Pat, well, what would that be?

Pat: Be True to yourself. Take more chances. Don’t we all need to do that? As we get older, we realize that why are we playing it so safe all the time? That is one of the bigger mistakes we can make because life should be such an adventure. I think you need to live it and to do that you have to put yourself out on the edge a little bit. But most of our society really encourages us to find that professional job and or that corporate job and move through it and live a very regular, even life. And I did that for a lot of years, but, the bottom line is I’m not that person anymore. I’m somebody who kind of likes to take things on full throttle, do it, then pause and then go do something else. And that doesn’t fit into society’s norms that’s all right. It’s all right to be multi-passionate. I think that it’s really important to find what spins your wheels. What is your creative essence, what is your loving essence? Find it and follow it.

Karthika: So now, where you are with your own diagnosis as well as where you are with Cancer Road Trips, what is on the horizon for you? What are your next goals or dreams or aspirations?

Pat: Oh, I see me spending the rest of my life doing this. This is wonderful. I’m actually through planning the first retreat we’ll be undertaking in 2020. We might get two in 2020. I have an amazing group of people around everything. You can see some of the people are involved in this on the website. I just have a very talented team. So, I am really look forward to growing Cancer Road Trip after the first retreat. We’ll be opening this up to a web based video application process. It’ll be open to everybody in the world.

If you don’t go on any given trip, you can apply for another trip and we’ll be developing a documentary film series as we go so that over time we’re going to see different cultural perspectives of healing through the eyes of our seven travelers. And what I really hope to do is to show people through the lives of all these people, each with a unique story, that cancer, which is a terrible experience in many ways, could be and can be a pivot point into a much more conscious life. If people can see that and see their path towards a more meaningful life, true to themselves, that would be a win-win for everybody.

Karthika: I agree. And these trips are at no cost to the participant, right?

Pat: Yes and we are looking at people who’ve been touched by cancer and we focused on the post treatment phase. So that’s certainly includes any patients post treatment. They may or may not be cured, but they’re well enough to travel. But we’ll also be focusing on caregivers because caregivers are so overlooked sometimes in this entire experience. One friend of mine who went through lung cancer and is very lucky to be alive said to me that it took him maybe two or three years to understand and realized what his wife has gone though as well. It’s just very hard on everybody. And I think that we need to have a discussion about this. We need to look at the emotions, the psychology that drives these different situations and have some difficult discussions too because all of this isn’t pretty, but it’s very real and it’s life and we all face it. And I hope that by bringing these groups of people together and capturing this on film, we can end up with some pretty interesting discussions about life and living.

Karthika: Yes. Not everything is based out of a textbook or prescription based and things like that. It’s emotional, it’s gut wrenching. One day you’re happy one day you are not. And how do you deal with all of that? Not just the person going through it is impacted but the people around that person also are impacted by it. Now what do you do for fun, Pat? How do you unwind after a long day?

Pat: Living at Santa Fe, I head outdoors. It is just beautiful. And I can’t play some of the sports I used to play, but I certainly can walk, I can hike and just being outdoors here is spectacular. Going for a walk with my camera is my idea of fun. I have an Instagram account for Cancer Road Trip and you can see a lot of the pictures there and the galleries on the website with a lot of pictures from my travels. I got inadvertently got hooked on photography and now I take my camera everywhere with me.

Karthika: Yes it is a lot of fun. All right, let’s do a quick rapid round. We can get to know you a little bit better. No overthinking it. Just whatever comes to mind.

  • Coffee, tea or something stronger – Matcha Latte
  • Your favorite flavor of ice cream? Pistachio.
  • A quote that you get inspired by – If you think adventure is dangerous, try routine. It’s lethal.
  • Horror movies, Action, adventure or drama – action and adventure.
  • Favorite seasons. Spring. Summer, fall or winter? Fall.
  • What was your dream job? Everyone. Including myself, thought I would write and then I went into finance and now fast forward 40 or 50 years later I am writing again and I love it.
  • Beach or Mountains. Mountains. Absolutely. Right there with you.
  • Taco pizza or pasta. I’m going to say Tacos for the crunch, but pizza is a really close runner up.
  • What is your favorite country in the world and why? – I love northern Italy. The people are wonderful. The food is wonderful. There is that connection to the earth, the history, the aesthetics. It’s just such a fantastic place on earth. And I think there are many fantastic places, but Italy is one of my favorites.

Karthika: So Pat know what lies ahead for you. Are you sort of fully living your dream or what comes next? If it’s okay to share with us.

Pat: I’m building my dream. I’m 62. My goal is when I hit 65 that I will have Cancer Road Trip established as a well running organization and I want to be the advanced guide. I want to go out ahead of each trip. Say we’re going to Bali, I want to go out there for a month, get the lay of the land and send back pictures, blog posts and film about where we’ll be going next on cancer road trip.

Karthika: Well, thank you so much, Pat. This has been absolutely amazing. I think you’re doing something very wonderful with Cancer Road Trip and it’s just a great way for everybody affected to put that aside for a bit and enjoy life like it’s meant to be. So I really appreciate you coming on. Thank you so very much.

Pat: You’re very welcome. If I could just put in one plug for Cancer Road Trip. Please visit the website and browse. There’s a lot there. And comments are always welcomed.

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