In one week we will proudly carry the prayer flag of many great and amazing people on a journey to the top of Mt. Kilimanjaro. This journey will have many obstacles and difficulties. Often, cancer patients describe their cancer journey as if they were climbing a gigantic mountain, listen to Pamela's journey, she is an inspiration to us! In her own words:
October 19th, 2012 started off like any other day. That evening, after I finished nursing my 13 month old daughter, I noticed a small lump on my left breast. Of course it was a Friday, so I waited all weekend to call a doctor. On Monday morning I made some calls hoping to get the lump checked out as soon as possible. My doctor, noting that I was nursing, suggested that the “lump” may just be a clogged milk duct. I was advised to wait to see if it resolved itself in 2 weeks, and if not, to come back. Looking back now, I realize how incredibly lucky I am to have had an amazing support network of nursing mama’s whom I reached out to for information and advice regarding their experiences with clogged ducts. The first thing they all said was that it was extremely painful… Hmmm …that’s not what I had. Thankfully, I didn’t wait two weeks before demanding that I be seen again --- particularly because I had found another “lump” in the same breast. This is how my cancer journey began, although I didn’t know it at that moment. I didn’t know what the lumps were, but I knew that whatever they were, they didn’t belong in my body…and they had to go.
Fast forward to November 15, 2012: The day my life REALLY changed. By this time, I had already undergone a mammogram (my first), an ultrasound, and a needle biopsy. I met with a general surgeon, Dr. Megan Grunander, who I had been randomly assigned to go over my biopsy results with me. She was amazing as she delivered the most devastating news of my life, “You have breast cancer”. I am pretty sure my husband and I sat with our mouths open on the floor for at least 5 minutes as a wave of nausea passed through me. How did this happen? I was 32, I have no family history of breast cancer, and this doesn’t happen to people like me, right? My husband had googled (something I don’t recommend) the statistical likelihood of me having breast cancer: 1%! --- so much for statistical luck. Dr. Grunander began to talk about “the plan” which is where things got very real:
And so we were off to a running start, in a race we certainly didn’t sign up for.
I had my double mastectomy on December 17th, 2012. My cancer was Stage IIB - it was in one lymph node and was ER/PR positive (or hormone receptive which is a good thing). I began 16 doses of chemotherapy January 14, 2013 - what a way to start the New Year. I had 4 doses of the “Red Devil” (it really is red and a devil) and Cytoxan every other week, with the last dose landing on my 33rd birthday. I followed that with 12 doses of Taxol and sitting with ice packs to avoid the side effects that plague hands and feet. As luck would have it, I sat next to a lovely young woman about my age at my first treatment and we would become great friends. We often refer to each other as the silver linings of treatment (aside from not having cancer anymore) as we were able to sit together and share this experience (as miserable as it was) for the next 6 months.
I began my tomotherapy radiation with Dr. Fisher on June 26, 2013 and continued treatment almost daily through the first part of August 2013. I had 2 reconstruction surgeries in December 2013 and January 2014, had physical therapy to deal with lymphedema throughout chemo. Note, I still struggle a bit with range of motion issues. As of today, I am cancer free. Still, I take a hormone blocking medication which, along with my scars, serves as a daily reminder of the battle I have waged for my health - continue to fight - but I am here! I am alive and thriving.
Cancer has changed me. I’ve found I am stronger than I ever thought I would have to be. I have perspective that most 34 year olds don’t have about what really is important in life: my family and friends. While my job is important, I am an Assistant Professor at Weber State University, it is not the only thing that brings me joy. I have learned that making time for those who are most important is most important. I want to work to live, not live to work (like I had before this experience). I want my daughter to look at me, when we someday talk about this in more depth, and realize how strong her mama is and what an impact she had on making sure I was strong and alive for her. I hope that she won’t ever have to have the same fight with cancer that I have had. I hope that is not her journey, but if it is, I hope that she will have as much fight as I have had.
I am so fortunate that I have an amazing support system who has stood by me throughout this entire experience and continues to support me in this ever changing journey. I am proud to be a mom, a wife, a survivor and hopefully an inspiration to those who face their own cancer journeys. My husband has been amazing. He has been both mom and dad over the last year or so when I wasn’t able to get up and help: He’s cooked, he’s cleaned, and he’s been present in our day to day life in ways I had hoped I could be. My daughter, who was 14 months when I was diagnosed, is almost 2 ½ now. Truthfully, having her in my life made it easier to get up and battle as hard as I could to fight cancer and win. My support network started “Team Pam: Because Cancer Effects More Than Those Diagnosed”, participating in fundraisers, walks, t-shirt design and distribution, providing cleaning, food, and lots of love daily. I couldn’t have done this without them. I have been fortunate to have an amazing medical team who have helped to make sure that I not only survive but thrive through this experience. I have learned that it is important to roll with the punches (and in a cancer journey there are often many) and keep a positive attitude. One of my favorite sayings throughout this journey was shared with me by a dear friend of mine. Every day we are given just enough, just enough strength, just enough love, JUST ENOUGH! So when things get tough, I always remember I have JUST ENOUGH, EVERY DAY!
Follow Pam on her blog, Payne's Pathway.