People Who Have Cancer Can Leave Behind a Couple Kinds of Legacies

October 21, 2020
Beth Fand Incollingo

CURE, 2020 Breast Cancer Special Issue ,

“The future is not yours,” says Pam Haldeman, who has metastatic breast cancer. “A way to get back a little bit of control is to be your own advocate and get aggressive in researching and going to every conference or retreat available.”

Breast cancer can be scary and life-altering at any stage, but those with metastatic disease, which has spread to areas beyond the breast and nearby lymph nodes, live a unique experience. Their perspective and decisions are shaped by the knowledge that their illness is incurable and that they’ll need treatment for the rest of their lives.

Patients facing this diagnosis often say that only others in the same situation can truly understand what they’re going through. CURE® talked with five people living with the disease, all ambassadors for Facing MBC Together, an Athenex Oncology program that includes a website and app designed to provide practical and emotional support. Here, we share an excerpt from Pam Haldeman’s journey with metastatic breast cancer.

Self-advocacy has helped Haldeman thrive through five lines of treatment for metastatic breast cancer.

“I felt like I needed to really dig in because when you have metastatic disease, you’ve kind of lost control of your life,” says the 66-year-old wife and mother who lives in a Philadelphia suburb. She received a diagnosis of stage 2/3 triple-negative breast cancer in 2016 and learned in 2018 that it had metastasized to her liver.

“The future is not yours,” she says. “A way to get back a little bit of control is to be your own advocate and get aggressive in researching and going to every conference or retreat available.”

On working full time

“I’ve worked for the owner of multi-franchise car dealerships for 38 years. Maintaining my normal work schedule allows me to continue to feel both comfortable and productive. My bosses are flexible and understanding when I have to miss work for cancer care, and the cancer center is conveniently located nearby. So, at this time, I am still able to keep my job, my family commitments and most outside activities (except exercise class) without too much disruption or stress.”

On keeping mum about metastatic breast cancer

“If I explained it to people, they always wanted an update. And somebody always saw an ad on TV and wanted to know why I wasn’t taking that drug. It hit a point of ridiculousness, so I just decided to go cold with them and make it very easy, because it’s draining and time-consuming to keep explaining.

When I’m with my friends, I just want them to have fun, and if I ever want to talk about it, I want to be the one to control it. Instead, the MBC support group I attend twice-monthly has given me the venue to discuss and share more of the physical, mental and emotional issues of MBC among women facing the same challenges.”

On leaving a legacy

“I’ve always been an upbeat person, and through this, I’ve tried to continue to be positive and hopeful yet realistic, as well. People who talk to me or see me carrying on with my regular life have told me I’m an inspiration and that they look to me for my courage and strength. In a way, it’s kind of a legacy that I can leave. You can leave a couple of kinds of legacies: an advocacy legacy and a role model legacy. I hope to do both.”

For more patient profiles head here!

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