Photo by Jason DeVarennes

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Dear Life, Please stop throwing shit at me, signed Pamela

Upon hearing my latest news, a friend counseled me that he was certain I could handle whatever life threw at me. My immediate response was that I sure wished that life would stop throwing shit in my direction, or at least not take such precise aim.

The next day while I was at a PT appointment, I added a new goal to my list. I said that we have to fix my flexibility so I am better able to duck when shit is thrown in my direction! OK?

Well, too little too late.  Shit has good aim, and apparently I'm just lousy at getting out of its way.

When the doctor told me I had breast cancer, my first reaction was it is simply not possible, since I do not even have breasts. Well maybe I have them technically, but really, it's in name only. My pixie moniker comes not just from the distinctive blond pigtails! Really, how is it fair that I couldn't have the benefit of even a little cleavage, to then have these tiny creatures betray me in such a way!

So off with them, I said. But then the doctor said I would have to keep the traitors for a while, since the Her2 Positive breast cancer I have is aggressive and needs to be treated with some very targeted drugs and chemo before surgery. They told me that this was good news: In fact, when Herceptin was found, it was heralded as one of the biggest breakthroughs in cancer treatment, to such a degree that some scientists remember where they were when they heard about it!

So Yay! Science! Let me say that again, Yay! Science! And because research is fundamental, I want to do my part to support the actual scientific research that will someday make stories like mine a thing of the past, so I'm putting my efforts into raising funds for the Breast Cancer Research Foundation.

I had the mammogram and biopsy on a Tuesday and then had several days to absorb the potential for bad news. I reached out to friends on social media asking for folks to channel some positive energy my way. When the doctor called Friday morning to say positive, I realized that I should have been a bit more specific in my request for positive news! I won't make that mistake again!

John and I spent that day wandering between doctors' offices, numbed by the sentiment expressed by Robert Burns that the best laid plans of mice and men often go awry.

The doctors cautioned me against self-diagnosis on the internet, against second guessing, and against obsessing on the negative. So we concentrated on the positive and looked through the glossy brochures from the cancer center discussing Herceptin.

The next morning, as I sat reading through this literature, the words heart damage lept out of the page at me. Seriously, it's not enough that I get hit by a truck, break my back and get cancer. But now you have to go after my heart too!

That had to be my lowest moment. There is no doubt that at times I might come across as strong and stubborn. But honestly, every long distance cyclist shares these qualities, and being stubborn might not be a trait to be proud of. But I do have some soft spots, and when those soft spots are targeted,  it can be pretty crippling. This was a pretty targeted assault! John immediately ignored advice to stay away from the internet and did loads of research on this type of heart damage, coming away with good news. I think by the time we arrived for our appointment on Monday that I'd been singling along with Elton John and Kiki Dee for a while. "Don't go breaking my heart."

But the doctors already knew. Apparently my reputation preceded me and my surgeon began by telling me that the head of Oncology mentioned me at a clinic that morning and talked about the type of rides I do and the importance of cycling to me. They quickly understood how critical it was not to break my heart!  

The next week was full of more tests, appointments and anxiety. My PET Scan and lymph node biopsy were both positive in the good sense. The cancer appears contained. I started chemotherapy last Thursday, and it went well. I even managed to get out for a couple of bike rides over the weekend. The last two days have been a bit of a challenge, but I was somewhat prepared for this. When we planned out which day to do chemo, they told me I'd feel OK for the first couple of days and then have a rough patch, so I said, let's give me good weekends!

Among the many positive comments I received from friends, I got one that I made me wish fb had a button 1000 times more powerful than like. My friend, Dan said that what the cancer doesn't know is that it's just been diagnosed with a case of Pamela Blalock!  I think he's saying that you don't want to get on my bad side!

As word has seeped out, loads of folks have reached out to me. Dwan Shepard, from Co-Motion, a cancer survivor himself, was one of the first to reach out to me directly. His words were very kind and touching. He told me how he'd named his tumor and even wrote poetry, as a way to capture his emotions. I think he saw in me the need to write things down to act as a release. Inspired by Dwan, I named my cancer Davros. Dr. Who fans will instantly get the reference. Davros is one of The Doctor's greatest enemies. He has caused trillions of deaths, and even his own invention seems to have turned on him. While The Doctor may show mercy to his enemies, in some feeble hope that there is still something good to be found inside them, fortunately MY doctors and I don't harbor such hope with cancer. It will be exterminated!

There is nothing good about cancer. Cancer can be hereditary, striking families.  It sometimes has environmental causes and finally it can just be random and vicious. Cancer steals joy and hope. Cancer kills innocent babies and ruthless dictators, indiscriminately. I may risk alienating some of my friends and family with what I'm about to type, but I think it's pretty well known already that I'm not one who believes in an interventionist God. I just don't think people get healed because someone prayed or they deserved to get better. I do not believe people survive because they are strong.  I do not believe that people get sick and die because they were bad. People are cured because science and research have found a way to handle it. People die because the science wasn't ready yet.

Don't watch the Stephen Fry video at the end of this post, if you are likely to be offended by this sort of thing. But he says what I feel in much more powerful words.

Now this is not to say that I do not believe a positive outlook will not help me or others. I believe I will be cured by modern medicine. And if nothing else, being positive and seeking joy where I can will make me less miserable, happy even! So my plans are to push away negative thoughts and concentrate on what is good, right now. So it's OK to channel positive energy my way and I won't deny anyone their prayers. But don't even think of coming near me with negative energy. Instead, channel it into positive actions, whether it is fundraising for research or driving a local cancer patient to an appointment or just saying please and thank you when you can.

And please support scientific and medical research in whatever way you can. And elect people who actually believe in science and support research. And since we have some many in office right now who seem to believe in anything except science, please make contributions to foundations who help fund this vital research. I'll just put in another plug to my fundraising page at the Breast Cancer Research Foundation.

Also, let me try to pay it forward in a different way. Right around the time that I broke my back, an innocent child was born with Cystic Fibrosis. Everyday, this child struggles with the challenges of digesting food, thriving, breathing and staying healthy. Despite everything going on in her life, his mother, my dear friend, Dena, reached out to me to ask how she could help me. She is the epitome of positivity, maintaining such composure and taking on this challenge as a scientist and humanist would. She has continually reached out to help me, and I could never have hoped to find a better friend. So please also join me in helping Dena raise funds to do research in CF.

Because Yay! Science!


  1. Pamela -- if anyone can beat this, it will be you. You will definitely be in our thoughts.



  2. You continue to inspire me, Pamela. One f-ing foot in front of the other, right? I mean, what other choice do we have? Not to give in to hopelessness and despair, certainly, I wish I were closer so I could stop by for a ride or a cup of coffee. I look forward to seeing you and John again soon. And hey, I hear you're moving closer.

  3. Well damn, Pamela, welcome to the club that no one wants to be a part of. I love the notion of the cancer having a bad case of Pamela Blalock! Seriously, your positivity, sense of humor and strength will be your greatest assets. I would suggest, if you don't already, adding yoga and meditation to your mix. It has worked wonders for me and scientific research (Yay! Science!) continues to validate the benefits. I'll be dedicating the energy of my practice to you in the days ahead. Know you are loved even by those of us who have never met you and only know you through your writing. Hang tough sister and let your needs be known so that your friends everywhere can help.

  4. I stumbled upon this through your Twitter feed. And thought, "oh no, not again". You do not deserve it but I'm sure you are strong enough to fight it. I hope your treatment progresses well. Science (Yay!) is a wonderful thing.

    Go Pixie, get better.

  5. Breast cancer scares the shit out of me. My mom is a survivor and I have experienced the fear and anxiety of the mammogram and biopsy process. You are not alone, and if you ever need a friend to talk to, or ride in the rain with, I'm here. Literally. I am moving to Lincoln next month and will be within a few miles of RSC. I hope to see you soon. Erin

  6. We met via email. You don't know me from Adam, and yet you patiently helped me a lot with what may have seemed like unending tandem build questions. I've been in your husband's shoes, and I know the horrible feelings you are both having. I like the way you are not sugar coating it, I like your attitude, and I like your strength - which doesn't mean you don't get to freak out .... a lot. The journey is beginning. You will be amazed at what this teaches you. All those long miles have taught you how to endure the hard parts. We've never met, but you are in my heart and I'm sending a whole boatload of caring vibes your way.

  7. Everybody wishes you the best of luck!

  8. Thank you for sharing so much in this post. Positive energy on the way.
    Science indeed!

  9. Pamela, so sorry to hear of latest daunting challenge but glad you’ve got a winning team to support you Marked my 4th Cancerversary last Christmas. I tell you this so that you know I feel your pain and you are not alone. I am pedaling positive energy to you on every ride. Be well as you can each day and let’s ride forever even if on somedays it’s in bicycle dreams of the next ride.

  10. Pamela,

    Thanks for sharing this unexpected part of your life. I will pass it on to friends battling cancer as fuel for their fight. Go science!

  11. Wishing you the best and a good course of treatment! I have good thoughts and prayers going your way. Hang in there -- you are a fantastic inspiration!

  12. As I sit here with a broken rib and plantar fasciitis/sore Achilles, you make me feel pretty lucky. I only know you through T@H (for nearly 20 years now), but somehow I almost feel like a close friend. You have definitely been thrown some nasty curves. My heart goes out to you and John. You definitely don't deserve all this.

    I can relate to your situation to some extent because Karen was diagnosed with BC a little more than a year ago. She was a little luckier than you and only required a lumpectomy and radiation, and, to date, the prognosis is good. But, as you will become more and more aware, that little cloud is always hanging up there no matter how positive the checkup results. All one can do is be a strong self advocate and try not to look back. Look forward and make the best of each day. There is no doubt in my mind that you can do that. Especially with that wonderful hubby of yours. This experience will bring you even closer together - at least that's my observation.

    Best of luck with this and please keep us posted.

    Ed (& Karen) Hass
    2009 Co-Motion Speedster
    1990 Fisher Gemini