When Pam Goldstein went for a mammogram, she fully expected it to be a routine procedure. But then the team doing her screening spotted something and said they wanted to do a biopsy.
“They said they weren’t sure about it, but nothing was a huge red flag,” she remembered.
Pam got that biopsy a couple weeks later and waited for the doctor to call with the results. While she was home by herself, sitting outside on the deck, Pam’s phone rang, and she got the news that the suspicious area was cancer.
“It wasn’t a complete shock because I had had the biopsy, but I was still not expecting it,” she said. “But from the time I was diagnosed, I focused on: What’s the next step? What do we need to do? Surgery? OK, let’s get it done. Chemo? OK, that’s going to be a crappy few months but let’s get it done. I was very much focused on getting through each step.”
Pam was diagnosed with stage 3 invasive lobular breast cancer, a form of the disease that can present unusually on screenings and has been understudied. She also had DCIS in her breast, as well as positive mammary and auxiliary lymph nodes.
Pam had a tough double mastectomy—the surgeon removed 18 lymph nodes and she had several complications during recovery—and then she started ACT chemotherapy. After finishing chemo at the end of February of this year, she completed five weeks of radiation through the spring. Her husband, kids, extended family, and friends were amazingly supportive throughout.
Today, in addition to working to get her strength back, she takes hormone therapy in combination with a targeted treatment (a CDK 4/6 inhibitor), along with a drug for bone health.
And she has more to celebrate: A few weeks after finishing radiation, her daughter Melissa, a member of BCRF’s communications team, gave birth her first child, Rafi.
“Rafi’s journey to birth was my journey through cancer,” Pam said. “Melissa was pregnant my entire journey, and for me, as bad as things were, that was really, really positive. It was nice to have that going on at the same time.”
Not only did Pam become a grandma after breast cancer, but she also got to watch her son graduate from law school and see her other daughter thrive in college.
“The hardest part of this experience was thinking about what my family was going through,” she said. “But the kids were all in good spots, which made it easier. Cancer also showed me everyone’s strength. I was so worried about picking everybody else up, but, in turn, everybody was picking me up.”
Melissa, who joined BCRF more than two years ago, said she never could have imagined that her work life and her family life would intertwine so closely. She credits her time working for BCRF with her ability to stay positive in the face of her mom’s diagnosis.
“I typically don’t handle health issues well in our family, so I think everyone was surprised by how calm I remained and how much I wanted to talk about my mom’s diagnosis. Part of the reason I felt so ‘OK’ hearing the news was because I knew the strides BCRF has made possible in breast cancer research. I knew she was going to be OK,” Melissa said.
Melissa was glad to be able to help support her family through the ordeal, as well.
“When my mom would call us after each doctor appointment with a recap, I actually understood what the doctors were saying and helped explain everything to my two younger siblings,” she said. “It was really helpful for my own processing that I was at BCRF while all of this happened.”
Her mom’s successful treatment has deepened Melissa’s connection to BCRF’s mission and her support for breast cancer research.
“It’s why my mom is still here with us today,” she said.
During treatment, Pam appreciated Melissa’s firsthand knowledge of how BCRF had supported different treatments and tests she was receiving, like Oncotype DX.
“Melissa would tell me, ‘BCRF was involved with this. BCRF was involved with that.’ It was amazing to think that, in a small way, she was part of advances that helped me,” Pam said. “I credit BCRF and my doctors for my surviving.
I credit BCRF for the fact that I’m here to watch my kids and Rafi grow up.”
Read more stories from BCRF’s Research Is the Reason storytelling initiative here, and support Pam’s fundraising page here.
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