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Pam



I was diagnosed with inflammatory breast cancer in 2006, just after my 40th birthday.

I wasn’t aware of any family history, so the diagnosis came as a complete surprise.

I was actually misdiagnosed at first. I had broken out with a rash on my arm. After 10 days on an antibiotic, it just didn’t go away. So then I went to a different doctor, and they did a mammogram. That’s how they found I had calcifications. After they did a skin biopsy, it was determined that it was in fact stage III inflammatory breast cancer.

The symptoms of inflammatory breast cancer are not in a lump form that you can feel. That’s why inflammatory breast cancer is often misdiagnosed, because everybody looks for a lump.

It was very tough news. After looking at the diagnosis and how little there was out there for treatment, it was a very scary time.

My treatment consisted of eight treatments of chemotherapy. I had a double mastectomy. I then went into 31 rounds of radiation, followed by 14 months of oral chemotherapy, and then then in 2009 I was able to have a double reconstruction. I’m now on Arimidex, which I’ll be on for at least five years, if not more.

About 14 days after my first treatment, my hair started to fall out. A lot of women will say that’s such a hard thing, but I thought this was a good sign. The treatment is working.

I actually chose to shave my hair. I thought, if I’m going to bald, then I’m going to be bald. There aren’t a lot of things that you can control with cancer, but this was one of them. [Cancer's] not going to tell me when I’m going to not have hair.

One of my best friends is a hair stylist, so we made it a good time. We had a lot of laughs, and I never looked back.

Emotionally, it is tough. I think people don’t realize that cancer is a family diagnosis. As much as it’s hard on the person going through it, it’s an emotional roller coaster for your spouse, for your children. I think that’s what is the hardest. My husband had to take on the roll of mother and father, and he did a fantastic job.

Your kids have to grow up really fast. It’s unfair that they have to worry about whether mom is feeling good or not feeling good, but I think it’s going to shape them, as they get older. Life is tough, but it’s what you do with the cards you’re dealt that matters. They’ve learned that you can’t take life for granted.

It was really hard for me to tell my family. There were a lot of tears. I remember my mom feeling that she was helpless and didn’t know what to do.

But a lot of it is attitude. And I knew that I was going to beat it, so I didn’t have the self pity. I found that [my family] was as good as I was. If I was being positive, they were positive. So that’s what I needed to do.

I just celebrated my five-year cancer-versary, I guess you’d call it, which is really rare with inflammatory breast cancer. I’m very fortunate.

I remember when I was first diagnosed, I just wanted little things. I would pray every night: can I just watch my kids graduate? I just set my goals at little, small things.

I just had my daughter graduate two years ago, and my son will graduate next year, and I know I’ll be there to see them. I just appreciate it so much. Now I find myself thinking, you know, I’m not going to ask a lot, but it’d be great to see them get married or have grandkids. I find myself looking out into the future more since I reached the five-year mark.

I had a great support system – family, friends – but until you’re diagnosed with breast cancer, you don’t get it. I didn’t have a support group in my community, so that was one of the areas that I felt I really needed. I wanted to reach out to other women.

So, a high school classmate of mine – we were diagnosed within nine months of each other – and I decided when were both well enough, our mission was going to be to help other survivors. So we started a support group in 2008.

In the last five years, we’ve had more than 60 women come and go. When you’re diagnosed with breast cancer, there’s that bond. We just get it. It’s a sorority no one wants to belong to, but unfortunately, we are there, and we have to support each other.

I’m a firm believer in listening to your body. If you feel there’s not something right, then get it checked out. You go to buy a car, and you might go to four dealerships to buy a car, but you go to the doctor and listen to the first diagnosis without getting a second opinion. Your body is more important than anything you purchase.

So listen to your body. We have to be advocates for our own health. If I didn’t have a second opinion, then I wouldn’t be here today.

I’m absolutely thrilled with the Edith Sanford Breast Cancer Foundation. I think it gives breast cancer survivors like myself hope. I’m a firm believer that money needs to go into research, and they’re going to spend 100 percent of their donations on research. It doesn’t get any better than that.

I truly believe that there will be a cure. It’s just a matter of when. With a foundation like this, there’s definitely a chance.

I actually had the pleasure to be one of the 25 charter members of the biobank. I just think it is such a breakthrough in itself. You hear about these people who are going through these [clinical] trials, and with a biobank, the time that these studies are going to be able to slash, is amazing. I encourage anyone that I meet to be a donor. The more people that participate, the closer we get to a cure.

I think it’s just a matter of time before every single person knows someone who has been diagnosed with breast cancer. It just takes a small donation to help. We can make it happen.


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