Cancer survivor bares her story for calendar

January 5, 2009

By Chantelle Lusebrink

Pam Travis, of Issaquah, appears in the Angel Care Calendar 2009 as Miss May. By Gail Ann Watson.Pam Travis, of Issaquah, appears in the Angel Care Calendar 2009 as Miss May. By Gail Ann Watson.

One Issaquah woman is baring it all to make a point — well, almost all of it. Among carefully placed, bright-green leaves, Pam Travis, an Issaquah resident and breast cancer survivor, poses for the sixth time in this year’s Angel Care Breast Cancer Foundation’s annual calendar.

“When I first posed for it about six years ago for the first time, I brought my husband with me to make me feel more comfortable, because I was so nervous,” she said. “As the years have gone by, I’ve felt more and more comfortable.”

She is one of 11 women and one man who posed for the 2009 calendar, which raises money for the foundation.Angel Care, founded in 1997, provides support for recently diagnosed breast cancer patients by linking them with survivors.

Travis has been diagnosed with breast cancer four times, and is still fighting the disease.

“The mission of the calendar is to help get the word out about Angel Care,” said Cindy McWilliams, a coordinator with the organization. “It also helps those that are newly diagnosed with breast cancer see that there is light at the end of the tunnel.”

Travis’ involvement with Angel Care comes from how vividly she remembers receiving the terrifying diagnosis for the first time in 1982. It was entirely unexpected, since no one in her family had been diagnosed.

“In 1982, it was very, very scary,” she said. “I was younger, had young children and I’m also a nurse. So, I had seen what a lot of the radical mastectomy surgeries looked like.

“It was really a shock,” since at the time, treatment options were to have a mastectomy or a lumpectomy, she added.

Radiation treatments and chemotherapy were just coming into use.

“In those days, there wasn’t the support groups we know today, there was no Angel Care, no Komen Foundation” she said.

For support, she relied on a fellow church member — who’d been diagnosed a few years earlier — her husband and all the information she could get her hands on.

Since then, she said she has endured two mastectomy surgeries, one on each breast at different times, several lumpectomies, radiation and chemotherapy treatments.

Two years ago, she was diagnosed with breast cancer again.

“I found some pimples on my skin and chest,” she said. “It was diagnosed as breast cancer that was on my skin.”

Travis continues to fight her own battle, but also helps others fight through her work as a volunteer with the organization.

Newly diagnosed patients are linked with Travis through Angel Care and she acts as a support for them, providing emotional support, personal experiences and as a shopping companion to purchase things like wigs.

“All of our volunteers provide a sisterhood for survivors,” McWilliams said. “It is great to get together, for them talk with each other and learn from one another.”

Travis also attends medical appointments with new members and attends foundation seminars with doctors, research companies and gathers information about new clinical trials.

“There is no other organization that works the way we do,” Travis said. “When you’re diagnosed with a disease like breast cancer, you need to talk to someone about it.

“Someone that has been there gives so much support, so you can talk about the things you’re embarrassed about, like your body if you’ve had a mastectomy, which can be very traumatic.”

Nearly 40,000 women in the U.S. die from breast cancer annually, but with early detection and education, Travis said she hopes those numbers will go down.

The foundation’s calendar helps promote awareness by giving monthly reminders for both clinical and self-breast exams.

“There was only one time that my cancer was detected by a mammogram,” Travis said. “The other times, I found it myself, which is why I strongly, strongly suggest that women do self breast exams, because that is how most women find it.”

She added that women should start self exams as early as possible, since she has known many young women in their 20s who have been diagnosed.

She said she also wants those diagnosed with cancer to become advocates for themselves. Those who learn the most about their disease and their options often do the best physically and emotionally, she said.

If you’re looking for that perfect 2009 calendar to grace your wall, support one that supports women and men fighting breast cancer, she said.

“I feel proud that I can do this, in spite of everything,” she said. “I’m living proof that there is life after breast cancer, and you don’t have to be ashamed of your body.”

Reach Reporter Chantelle Lusebrink at 392-6434, ext. 241, or clusebrink@isspress.com. Comment on this story at www.issaquahpress.com.

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