Cancer's 1-2 punch can't stop student


POSTED: Sunday, December 21, 2008

After surviving two bouts with cancer, Patti Mieko Isaacs' 36-year improbable educational journey ended with graduation ceremonies yesterday.

Isaacs first enrolled at the University of Hawaii Manoa in 1972 with the hopes of eventually earning a doctorate degree. Yesterday she received her doctorate in clinical psychology.

“;I was struggling as a mom with two kids,”; said the 54-year-old Waipahu resident. “;But I always dreamed of getting higher education.”;

After her first semester, she became pregnant with her first child and had to drop out. Her educational goal was further sidelined with a second child in 1975.

During the 1980s she attended Kapiolani Community College, studying occupational therapy. She worked at the Rehabilitation Hospital of the Pacific for 10 years. She went back to UH for her bachelor's degree in 1990.

The day after her commencement in 1994, she was diagnosed with breast cancer. She finished her treatment within a year.

“;I then started the clinical psychology graduate program,”; she said. “;Just when I got my master's degree, I found out I had uterine cancer, but I still wanted to get my Ph.D.”;

She has beaten both cancers, and is now a grandmother of two, with a third on the way. She works at the Hawaii State Hospital as a psychosocial rehabilitation clinician.

As part of her dissertation, she created a state project called Aloha Aina, which was developed to combat mental illness by working in a garden at the hospital.

Her work stems from a desire to help those who suffer not only from mental illness, but also from the social stigma that comes with it.

“;When you think you are dying, it doesn't matter how many hours you work,”; she said. “;The one thing you can do is to help others.”;