Pamela Nanton, Philadelphia
One day in May 2005 while I was in the shower, I noticed a lump. I wasn’t really checking my breast. I just came across it. I went to the doctor and he said let’s get you in for a mammogram. I didn’t go, though. I kept on working my busy schedule and traveling for work. I had a trip planned to El Salvador and went back to the doctor for a check-up. He said, “I don’t see any mammogram results in your file yet.” So I finally went…
Every time I started to get dressed after the mammogram I would be called back in for more pictures. After three or four times I thought they didn’t know what they were doing. It never occurred to me that there was a problem.
Fear and ignorance kept me from returning the call to get the results. Several days later I got the news that it was breast cancer and that I should talk to a breast surgeon. The surgeon I met with was using words that were over my head and he just kept talking. I didn’t understand anything he said. In my head all I heard was white noise, like the sound of Charlie Brown’s teacher talking.
Thank God I had brought my girlfriend with me who took notes. I called my mom and she prayed for me. A friend of the family knew a surgeon in Atlanta where I was living at the time, and his amazing bedside manner made a big difference.
I needed my family around me. My mom came and stayed with me for ten days. On the 11th day my sister arrived. My mom was there for the surgery and my sister stayed while I was healing. It was all so surreal. I was really thrown when my hands turned black and the texture of the skin changed from the chemo. While I was in treatment I heard from two cousins who both said they had had breast cancer long ago. They never said anything until then. I realized right then and there that I was going to be an advocate and be upfront about it. I’m a bold person. I wore my head bald for three months.
I come from a praying, spiritual family. My sister is a minister. I was reminded of Ecclesiastes: “There is a time to cry and a time to laugh.” I could ask Jesus “Why me?” but I tried to flip it around as often as possible and say “Why not me?”
For almost three years afterwards, my surgeon gave my phone number to newly diagnosed women. There’s a difference between sympathy and empathy. If you can empathize with me, that means you can understand me on a deeper level and I can talk with you. I think it’s important for us to be able to have that connection with one another … to say “Hey, I had that and I’m here to tell you that it’s been ten years.”