Pam Cromwell doesn’t fit many molds and she likes it that way. At 34 years old she’s in the prime of her life, advancing in her career, traveling with friends and dealing with treatments for Stage IV breast cancer, not exactly what she had in mind for her life but something she’s fighting every day.
Pam first found a lump in her breast in the shower. It was just six months before her 30th birthday. At that moment she never thought it could actually be breast cancer and neither did her doctors. “They kept telling me I was too young. I didn’t have a family history of breast cancer. They didn’t think the lump was malignant so they didn’t even want to perform a biopsy,” remembers Pam. She had to stay on top of it and on top of her physicians to get answers. “This was in March and I was just hoping to get everything taken care of before the summer, cancer still wasn’t what I was worried about.”
Finally, after Pam changed her primary care physician. she was able to get the attention she needed. Her doctor said the lump was likely a large cyst and sent her for a biopsy. The results couldn’t be denied. Pam was diagnosed with Stage III breast cancer. “The doctor called me on my cell phone in the middle of the work day. I heard the word cancer and was just floored. When we hung up the phone I went back to work because I really didn’t know what to do. I cried with a co-worker in the hallway for a few minutes but then I finished out the day.”
After the shock of her diagnosis wore off. Pam’s friend, who worked for the American Cancer Society and her brother, who is a nurse, started going to her appointments with her. They went to see a specialist who told Pam her case was very abnormal and the cancer was fast moving. The doctor was trying to hold back tears when he told her she would likely have only six months to a year left to live. “I was just trying to make it to 30,” remembers Pam. “This was not the news I was expecting.” When they left the office, that’s when her friend and brother told her she couldn’t go back to that doctor because he was already counting her out.
During this difficult time Pam waited to tell her parents about her diagnosis. She says she felt embarrassed and like she was letting them down. She’s the youngest in the family and the only daughter, so Pam really didn’t want her family to worry about her. Once she finally told them, they were able to face her cancer together.
Over the next few months Pam was able to find a new doctor. Before surgery she was given a lot of different options. Admittedly, Pam is a little conscious about her looks. She didn’t like the idea of having her breast removed. Then the doctor told her about a procedure where her breast could be reconstructed with fat transferred from her stomach, called a trans flap. “In a moment I went from crying to laughing. I had always thought about getting liposuction and now I could”. Pam decided to have the procedure done and felt great about it. After the surgery Pam started chemotherapy and radiation.
Pam never wanted cancer to get in the way of living her life. Right before she was diagnosed she had moved from Massachusetts to New York and started a new job. She kept working through her treatments, even with nearly no support from her boss. “Work was very important and still is. I wanted to keep things as normal as possible.” Pam said she didn’t want her employer to think she was making excuses. She says she felt no compassion from her boss when she told her she had cancer. Pam felt discouraged about this reaction but continued to work hard, even when she was feeling so sick. “Work was the one thing I could control. I felt like continuing to work kept me normal.”
During her treatments, Pam began looking for ways to connect. She admits support groups weren’t really for her. She didn’t really have anything in common with the women in 50s and 60s who were struggling with breast cancer. She knew there had to be younger women out there just like her but she couldn’t find them. She also had some problems when it came to things as simple as wigs. “I would ask if they had wigs for younger African American women. They’d say sure come on in. They put me in short old lady looking wigs. It was really tough.” So these struggles lead Pam to start her foundation “Pink for Pam”.
Pam’s foundation is designed to help cancer patients struggling with cancer to feel as normal as possible. To be a resource with stylists, career counselors, everything that could help get through their cancer diagnosis while still being themselves. That’s important to Pam. She doesn’t want to be considered “the sick one” or even sick at all. If she’s really not feeling well, she’ll go to a hotel to sleep. It’s something she does to not be a burden on her family.
After several months of treatment, Pam was told she was in remission. At this point her surgeon suggested she get her other breast removed, to lower the risk of the cancer returning in the other breast. It was that suggestion or take a drug and watch and wait for the next five years. Pam decided to have the surgery and she’s now glad she did. Pre-surgery testing showed no signs of cancer but during surgery it was found in her right breast and in her bones.
When Pam was at home recovering from the surgery, she knew it was time to make a change. That’s when she kept seeing commercials for Cancer Treatment Centers of America (CTCA). Her mother encouraged her to call. Pam agreed but really was only looking for nutritional and naturopathic advice. After she visited Philadelphia for her three day evaluation she decided to start radiation and she never looked back. “They didn’t force me back into chemo. Now I have a 20 minute infusion once a month. I don’t lose my hair. I feel fine. I’m just Pam, which is cool.”
Now Pam is living life and enjoying as much as she can about it. She has a great new business She takes the time to travel and laugh with friends, saying it’s still okay to laugh during cancer. Dr. Kazmi even had to scold her for taking kick boxing classes but Pam knows her body and knows when she’s pushing it too far. “I am actually having so much fun I sometimes forget I have cancer and that’s how it should be.”
Pam calls herself a fighter, not a survivor, because she will have to live with cancer every day of her life. It’s something she’s gotten used to. Instead of focusing on cancer, she’d rather focus on her foundation and the upcoming Pink Party she’s throwing. She’s ready to give back and help other young women just like her who are living with cancer and looking for their strength, like the strength Pam found inside herself.
Too Glam for Cancer: Easton
Murder Mystery Comedy Dinner Show! Come out for super fun and affordable night full of laughs, mystery, and audience participation while enjoying a delicious buffet dinner!
Saturday, October 26th from 5:30 – 9:30
342 Northampton Street
Easton, PA 18042
CLICK HERE TO BUY TICKETS
Too Glam for Cancer: New York
Come out for a fun night of delicious food, amazing music, prizes, and great company!
Thursday, October 24th from 6pm – 12am
320 W 37th Street
New York, NJ 10018
CLICK HERE TO BUY TICKETS