Pam Whitehead — "Cancer brought me to where and who I am today"
When the year 2000 came upon us, like most people I was excited to see what the new millennium would have in store for me. Little did I know that it would be the start of a series of events that have brought me to where and who I am today. The year 2000 redefined me as a person and set my course in a new tremendously positive direction. All because of cancer.
In the previous year, I had learned of my stepmother’s diagnosis with bladder cancer. I offered what support I could, but I can’t honestly say that I understood what she was going through. In February of 2000, cancer struck again. This time it was my mom and the diagnosis was breast cancer. Here I was living out in California, with my mom, alone, fighting cancer in Massachusetts. I was with her for her surgery. And then I offered what support I could via regular phone calls as she underwent radiation treatment throughout the Spring of 2000. In my mom and stepmother, I witnessed firsthand the unveiling of the true courage of individuals in times of adversity. These two women fought their cancer with grace and dignity – never a word of complaint. It made me proud to be their daughter. Both recovered from their illnesses, barely missing a step in their lives, and I marveled at their tenacity.
But cancer wasn’t done with my family. In June of 2000, after several months of tests following an annual physical, I heard the words “you have cancer” being spoken to me. I was 35 years old and had been diagnosed with uterine cancer. My husband and I absorbed the news, and immediately mapped out our road to survivorship. In July, a week after my 36th birthday, I entered the hospital for the first time ever, to undergo a radical hysterectomy. We had no children, and now this would no longer be possible, but it was my best option to insure a full recovery. And somehow, we were at peace with making this decision.
Survivorship brought many changes to my life. Many people say that cancer profoundly affects their lives, and I for one can attest to that. My husband and I, who are both architects, began hatching a plan to start our own architectural firm within weeks of my return from the hospital. Cancer opened our eyes to taking chances in order to really experience life to the fullest. Within six months, we had both quit our secure jobs and opened our own firm. At the same time, I joined the Lance Armstrong Foundation’s Peloton project. It was time for me to starting giving back.
I am a relatively quiet and somewhat shy person, but when I believe in something, passion takes over. The Lance Armstrong Foundation has been like that for me. Never would I have dreamed of being interviewed for television segments or for newspaper articles, but here I was taking it on. In 2004, I was thrilled to win the Lori A. Tilton Peloton Triumph Award for the volunteer “who best exemplifies the spirit of the Peloton Project.” The award came with a $5,000 prize, money that recipients agree to use to support a local, non-profit program benefiting cancer survivors. It has been a great privilege to be able to use that award to start the Triumph Fitness program for Cancer Survivors in the Sacramento area in partnership with the committed and compassionate doctors, nurses and patient educators at the cancer center. I know that in some small way I am helping to make the journey easier for others through this program.