‘At our age, you don’t meet that lifelong best friend:’ Madison women form sisterhood after cancer
Both beat breast cancer & now walk to help others
MADISON, Wis. — Best friends? Sisters?
Patty Grubb and Deb Zirbel’s bond is so strong, even they question whether they’re family.
“I’ve never had a sister before,” Zirbel said, choking back tears. “I’m an only child.”
The pair met seven years ago after bumping into each other several times around town.
“It’s cool because, at our age, you don’t maybe meet that lifelong best friend,” Grubb explained.
Both from Madison’s east side, Grubb and Zirbel never knew how much else they had in common: shopping, going to garage sales, spending time with their husbands.
“As we got to know each other, we just explored how many things are so similar,” Grubb said.
A few weeks into the friendship, they found another similarity.
“We said, ‘Oh, well I had breast cancer,'” Zirbel remembered.
“‘Oh! So did I.’ I said,” Grubb jumped in.
Zirbel’s doctor found a dimple on her breast in 1996. It was cancer. None of her friends or family had fought the disease before. She felt unprepared for the six sessions of chemotherapy and 33 rounds of radiation that followed.
Then, seven years later, it came back. This time, it was worse than the first.
“You go through all that and everything is fine,” Zirbel said. “And you go about with your life again. Then, when you find out you have it again, and it’s a different cancer, wow.”
Around the time of Zirbel’s second bout with the disease, Grubb was diagnosed, too. The women didn’t know each other at the time.
“Unlike Deb, who went through chemo and radiation, I avoided all that because it hadn’t spread,” said Grubb, who found her lump while taking a shower. It was malignant, so she opted for a mastectomy right away.
“In many ways, I didn’t feel quite like I belonged to this group of women who’ve been through so much, because I didn’t,” Grubb remembered. Zirbel, sitting next to her, squeezed her hand and shook her head.
“And everyone I say that to does that,” Grubb continued on. “They say, ‘You had breast cancer.'”
“It’s being told that you have cancer that unites everyone,” Zirbel explained.
Nowadays, Zirbel and Grubb don’t let past diagnoses define them.
“It’s just a bump in the road that we went through,” Grubb said. “And we’re both lucky.”
Lucky to laugh: the pair jokes about Zirbel’s flat chest.
Lucky for life: the two hold hands as tears well up in their eyes.
Lucky for garage sales: “We weren’t going to plug that one,” Zirbel jokes.
Lucky for sisterhood.
“It’s been really good to have Deb come into my life,” Grubb said.
And it’s evident that feeling goes both ways.
Grubb and Zirbel walk together in the annual “More Than Pink” walk. This year’s event takes place June 8.
News 3 Now This Morning is highlighting the stories of local women fighting for a cure to breast cancer all month long in our “Why We Walk” series.
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