Thank you for being here and wanting to know what's going on with me. In order to tell this story accurately, I have to take you back to Tuesday, December 6, 2000. That was the day that my Mom died of breast cancer. She was diagnosed two years prior and had been having yearly mammograms. She never found a lump, it was detected in the mammogram. It was an aggressive cancer. It went from being invisible one year to being in her breasts and her lymph nodes the next year. Knowing what we now know about breast cancer, her course of action should have been a double mastectomy. Instead, she had a lumpectomy. When the cancer returned, it returned with a vengeance! It had spread to her bones and organs. We received word that her cancer had returned in the summer of 1999. We held our breath for several months, but nothing happened. We started to relax by mid 2000. Mom, Granny and my Godparents took a cruise in November before the holidays and all went well. Mom went to bed the night before Thanksgiving and everything was fine. When she woke up Thanksgiving she had no energy. She was gone just a few days away. During one of our last conversations Mom said, "Sweetie, I always pray that God will make my children strong. Wouldn't it be something if He chose to do that through my death?" While I wasn't spiritually mature enough to handle that information, I did experience God's strength from the moment she took her last breath!
He has been so patient and loving with me that I am thankful to be used by Him! Now of course I would've chosen completely DIFFERENT ways for Him to use me, but, here I am! At the end of 2019 I was working on my goals and asking God to use me more in 2020. I expected (silly human thoughts!) that He would provide more speaking opportunities and and events that I could encourage more youth, adults and seniors. Little did I know that He was choosing a different kind of journey! So when my Mom was diagnosed with breast cancer, she had me go get a baseline mammogram. I did, and ended up having a lump in the same breast that carried her cancer. It was biopsied and determined benign. It returned shortly after her death and I had a lumpectomy by the same doctor who performed one on Mom. I was told to get a mammogram yearly. For a variety of reasons, my last mammogram was in 2011. So I went 9 years without a mammogram, partly because I had no insurance, and partly because. I was blessed with health insurance through my employer and signed up immediately.
I signed up for all kinda doctor's appointments in January of this year! It wasn't a surprise to hear that they wanted to do further investigating of my left breast. I went for the biopsy in February. With modern day technology, I receive medical updates online,. I had my biopsy on Thursday, February 20th and received an update to my records on Friday evening. I checked the message and saw some letters that I did not recognize or understand, but what I did understand was "NEGATIVE for invasive carcinoma", so I praised God and shared pictures of the announcements with my prayer partners. I had a follow up appointment on Tuesday , the 25th at 11am, but it was at an inconvenient time, so I wasn't planning to go. After several strong urgings by a sister in Christ, and the intervention of the Lord (by canceling most of the things that I would've missed by going to said appointment), I went. I was expecting the nurse would examine my biopsy spot and send me on my merry way. I was taken aback when we walked into a conference room. I mentioned that I almost didn't come to the meeting because I saw the report and knew that I was cancer free. I watched as her eyes got big and she asked for clarification. When I told her about my report, she shared her irritation that they would send it prematurely.
I had said, "I almost didn't come today because I saw the report and I know that I'm good". She said, "what do you mean, you're good?" I said, "Cancer-free". She said, "Pamela, you are good, but you're not cancer free. You have stage 0 DCIS which stands for Ductal Carcinoma In SItu" That means the cancer is is very very small and contained in one of your milk ducts." I sat there for a minute taking in the fact that she had just told me that I, Pamela Ruth Hempstead have breast cancer. WOW! Then I thought about the fact that my last mammogram was 9 years ago. God was ALL OVER that! Even in my sticking my head in the sand and ignoring, even in my not having health insurance and not doing, He was in the midst and working things out! I met with the surgeon, Dr. Lori Gentile. She discussed my options: lumpectomy with radiation and Tamoxifen for 5 years (YUCK) or a left breast mastectomy with reconstruction (YIKES!).
I prayed about my decision. I talked to a few people that I trust, and I decided to have a mastectomy. That choice seemed drastic to most of the medical professionals on my team (at the time), but my rationale was the fact that Mom told me before she died that if she had it to do over again, she would've had a mastectomy. And, the number 3 is my number. I take note when things happen in 3's and this was the 3rd issue with this breast. I did not want an implant because I have a sensitive system and did not believe I would do well with something so foreign. Plus, there are a variety of updates and switch outs necessary with implants, and finally, I have known several people who have had significant problems with implants. So the other option is to donate fat to myself. Cool! Count me in! It was recommended that I have genetic testing to determine if I had the BRCA1 gene mutation. I gave blood and began the process.
Then came COVID-19! On Monday, March 16th at 9:45pm, I was on a conference call and learned that the Y would be closing its doors. On Wednesday, March 18th I learned that because of COVID-19, I would have to have my surgery in two parts. Mastectomy first and then reconstruction months later. Then on Thursday, March 19th I learned that I have the BRCA1 gene mutation which puts me at risk for not only breast cancer, but ovarian and pancreatic cancer. Lord have MERCY!!!!! So then it was determined that at the very least, I have to have both breasts removed and a hysterectomy! There's a saying that 'God never gives you more than you can bear'. I disagree. If you could handle it, why would you need Him? Whether this is a test from my Father, or temptations from the enemy, it was MORE than I could bear! I prayed, and called on my church family and close friends to pray on my behalf. God has been so good and merciful to me!
My surgery date is Friday, June 26th and I have to be at the hospital at 4:30am. Surgery begins at 6:15am and will take 8-10 hours. The mastectomy portion will take roughly 2 hours, and the reconstruction will take roughly 6-8 hours. Dr. Lori Gentile will handle the mastectomy, and Dr. Wormer will handle the reconstruction.
I am grieving body parts that I have lived with for the past 40+ years. I am grieving the loss of presence and sensation. I have learned that it is okay to take my time and grieve however my body and mind chooses, and that I am entitled to this grieving process. To deny it is to deny growth! Thanks to my sisters in Christ and breast cancer, I have learned some key things: a question: Where's your head, a reminder: Manage your mind, a scripture: Proverbs 23:7, a statement, Feel What You Feel, BUT, Know What You Know, and a reality: You will wake up different, and you will never be the same.
I have been blessed with an AMAZING village! I thank you ALL for your prayers and well wishes! Please don't stop! Keep them coming! My healing process is going to be an uphill battle, but it is one that I am ready, willing and able to fight! To God be the glory!