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December 2011 Survivor of the Month – Dr. Pam Mahan
Dr. Pam Mahan’s Story by Elizabeth H.R. Osterberger
For the final month of the year, I had the pleasure of meeting Dr. Pam Mahan, December’s Survivor of the Month. The year is definitely going out on a great note with another AMAZING lady’s story. Pam and I negotiated our meeting around the busy Thanksgiving season and she took me to a truly beautiful place I would never seen if it weren’t for meeting her to take her portraits.
An avid runner, she is very familiar with the area in her neighborhood and knows all the most amazing, scenic places to go. She took me to one of the places she would go to walk during her treatment and it was gorgeous.
What she wrote in response to our questionnaire is so eloquent, I am going to try to leave most of it intact to get her powerful message across.
In April of 2007, she became one of the one in eight women diagnosed with breast cancer, and one of up to 80 per cent of breast cancer sufferers who had no family history of the disease. She says, “I was in shock and disbelief at the diagnosis of my particularly aggressive form of breast cancer. I did everything right to prevent breast cancer. I had yearly mammograms and clinical breast exams, and I performed monthly breast self exams. I exercised 5 days a week, maintained a healthy weight, never smoked, rarely ate red meat or drank alcohol. I quickly realized that cancer does not discriminate, and no one is immune to a cancer diagnosis.”
After 5 major surgeries including a double mastectomy, axillary dissection, and bilateral salpingo oophorectomy with 15 months of chemotherapy, “I was a survivor! I was cancer free! During the fifteen months of chemotherapy, I worked a full time job as a nursing professor with time off only for surgical interventions or chemotherapy sessions. I even ran/walked and lifted weights during the entire course of therapy. In December of 2007, I ran/walked the Savannah Bridge run while still on chemotherapy. My chemotherapy was completed in September of 2008.”
Unfortunately, breast cancer was not the only cancer diagnosis she faced. In May of 2009, she was diagnosed with Non Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. Although there is no cure for this cancer, additional chemotherapy has succeeded in placing the Lymphoma in remission. “I vowed never be defined or confined by cancer,” Pam asserts. This is the kind of attitude a true survivor and amazingly strong person has.
She says that she never lost her positive attitude and sense of humor through the treatments. “I managed to laugh through the tears and difficult times. The love, support, and encouragement from my husband was integral in my recovery. My husband never allowed me to give up.”
She believes that one day soon there will be a cure for breast cancer, lymphoma, leukemia, and all cancers. The most important thing I can do now is stay in good mental, emotional, and physical health to give myself the greatest chance of survival. I honor all breast cancer patients and survivors, because survivorship takes courage and hope,” she says of her continued hope.
Susan G. Komen has impacted her life because of the organization’s efforts to advocate for cancer fundraising, awareness, education, more effective therapies, and research. “The advocacy efforts bring us one step closer to eradicating cancer. Each spring, I participate in the Susan G. Komen for the Cure Race in Savannah, Ga. The yearly Komen for a Cure Race allows all cancer patients and survivors to participate in an event of hope. Life is celebrated,” she says.
Her message is of strength, hope, and second chances. She says, “Surround yourself with positive individuals. It is so important to have a great team. My team was my husband, children, family, friends, Drs. Paula DeNitto and Mark Taylor. My team were the warriors in my care and recovery. I was able to maintain a warrior’s spirit of hope because of my team. I could not have made such a successful recovery without everyone’s help.”
“My life has changed since the cancer diagnoses. I value every day of life, because life is a gift. I seize the day. I love deeper. I value and appreciate my husband, children, parents, brothers, sisters, and friends. I want to be an example of hope and strength to other cancer patients and survivors. I try not to sweat the small stuff, but sometimes I forget. If my story can help anyone make it through the tough times of a cancer diagnosis, treatment, and recovery, than every word was worth printing. You must believe that you have the strength to overcome any obstacles from a cancer diagnosis. I empathize with every individual who must battle cancer. Cancer is one battle, but everyone is fighting some kind of battle,” she says of her new outlook on life.
Dr. Mahan also notes that survivorship can be a difficult process. “One day, you are a patient, and the next day you are a survivor. What is next? A survivor’s goal must be to stay as healthy as possible by incorporating a healthy diet, daily exercise, limited alcohol intake, avoiding tobacco, and practicing stress management to reduce or eliminate breast cancer recurrence,” she points out.
Pam is an advocate for primary and secondary prevention measures in the form of education and screening for breast health. She teaches Community Health Nursing to final semester Baccalaureate Nursing students. Her students participate in community breast cancer education programs to underserved populations of Savannah, GA. She works with students in the Masters Nursing program who elect to develop master’s education projects regarding breast cancer awareness, education, and survivorship.
Every spring, she participates in the Susan G. Komen for the Cure Race with Armstrong Atlantic State University nursing students in Savannah, GA. In October of 2008, she raised $3,000.00 by participating in another breast cancer related event in Charlotte, NC with my daughter-in-law, a breast cancer survivor. They walked 39.3 miles in two days for breast cancer awareness, education, and research.
“I will continue to educate, advocate, and fundraise for breast cancer. Someday, there will no longer be a need for a ‘Race for the Cure’. I refuse to allow cancer to define or confine me.” – Dr. Pam Mahan