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Living life to the fullest in the face of breast cancer

After decades in education as a teacher, principal and administrator, Pam Neves was enjoying her retirement. She was relishing time with family, traveling, fun with friends and the occasional pickle ball game. There was one aspect of life after retirement that she never saw coming—cancer.

Like many others, Pam’s life changed suddenly and completely. In September 2021, just a few years into retirement, she found a lump in her breast. Thinking it was just a cyst, she went on with her busy life, traveling to Maui that October to see her sister, who after hearing she found a lump, made her promise to get a mammogram.

“At first, I thought I would wait for my annual physical,” Pam said. “I just wasn’t that worried. But then I decided to get the mammogram and once I got those results, my life changed.”

The day before Thanksgiving, Pam got the call everyone dreads. She had breast cancer. From there, it was a whirlwind of doctor’s visits, biopsies and treatments.

“After that it all just went so quickly,” she said. “I had my first appointment with my surgeon in Temple, Dr. Joaquin Rodriguez, scheduled by Christmas. The diagnosis came so fast—invasive ductal carcinoma, Stage II and grade 3. I had a port implanted and by mid-December had my first chemotherapy treatment. I felt like I just didn’t have time to breathe.”

Feeling scared and unsure of the future, Pam turned to her greatest strengths, her faith in God and her large support system of her husband, family and friends, to carry her through.

“You come home so overwhelmed, and you think ‘how am I going to respond?'” she said. “Am I going to be a victim or a victor? I don’t have a victim mentality, so I just thought ‘OK, the fight is on!’ That doesn’t mean I don’t feel sad or cry. I just let myself have that moment, then pulled myself out of it.”

In addition to the support she received at home, Pam was happy to find a support team at Baylor Scott & White Vasicek Cancer Treatment Center – Temple. The cancer survivorship program, led by coordinator Lynne Palamara, RN-BC, OCN, CNS, is dedicated to helping those currently fighting cancer, as well as those in the survivorship phase, work their way through their treatments and their grief, while offering the support they need to fight through their disease.

“They make it clear that from the minute you are diagnosed you are a member of the survivorship program,” Pam said. “I met with Lynne several times after my diagnosis. I think those meetings were so beneficial because for the first time since I was diagnosed, I wasn’t talking to someone about the physical treatment. I was talking about how I’m doing, emotionally and mentally. How are you sleeping, how are you eating, exercising? These aspects are so important too.”

For Lynne, it’s all about helping cancer patients and survivors live well by caring for the whole person.

“The focus of the Cancer Survivor Clinic is quality of life,” she said. “For patients who are just starting treatment, we provide them with tools and tips for feeling their best during cancer treatment. After treatment is completed, we concentrate on how cancer and cancer treatment has affected the patient’s quality of life, and develop strategies that will enhance the patient’s overall wellbeing.”

Pam also learned to lean on her physician, oncologist Mohit Bansal, MD, whom she met early on in her journey. He explained all the treatment courses in great detail, making sure she felt confident during every step.

“Dr. Bansal has been so great,” Pam said. “I’m so blessed with the doctors who have come into my life. And I was so thankful I could get this level of care in my own backyard.”

After months of chemotherapy, Pam had a successful breast surgery in May. To date, her pathology shows no signs of a tumor. While she knows the fight is not over yet, she remains hopeful for the future and is living life to the fullest.

If you or a loved one has been diagnosed with cancer, know that you’re never alone. Find cancer support near you today.

Living life to the fullest in the face of breast cancer