Aroostook County – In 2009, Pam Hocking’s regularly scheduled mammogram should have been a routine thing. Going into it, she knew this time would be different.
“The mammogram revealed a suspicious are,” said Pam.
She was referred to follow-up with a more detailed mammogram and an ultrasound which revealed an area of great concern.
“My provider then referred me to a surgeon in Bangor, Dr. Susan O’Connor, a breast specialist,” said Pam. “At my first appointment, she did a needle biopsy and called me the next day with a breast cancer diagnosis.”
Though Pam had suspected this as a possible diagnosis, very little could prepare her for the reality of it.
“Fear of the unknown,” Pam said. “That was the worst feeling.”
Two days after receiving the diagnosis from Dr. O’Connor, Pam met with her in Bangor. Dr. O’Connor arranged to have Pam get an MRI that same day.
“She reviewed everything with me,” said Pam. “My daughter went with me, which Dr. O’Connor suggested. When she reviewed things with us, she answered 99% of the questions I had before I even had a chance to ask them.”
Pam now felt confident about her plan of care and she was scheduled for a lumpectomy two weeks later. During the lumpectomy they performed a sentinel node biopsy to determine how invasive the cancer was. Pam had to wait four days for her results.
“It was a difficult four days,” said Pam. “I kept busy and family came to visit to distract me and help out.”
Pam’s sentinel node biopsy results came back negative. In discussions with her oncologist, Pam was encouraged to have genetic testing done as she was the sixth female on her father’s side of the family to have breast cancer. A simple blood test was performed and it was determined that she does not carry either one of the breast cancer genes; BRCHA 1 or BRCHA 2.
“When my results came back that the cancer had not spread, I learned I did not need to have chemotherapy,” said Pam. “It was an enormous relief!”
Pam needed to undergo 33 radiation treatments at TAMC’s Radiation Oncology Center. She continued to work at the nursing home throughout her treatments.
“My co-workers and employers were very supportive,” said Pam. “I actually didn’t mind the drive to Presque Isle every day. It was fall and the ride was quite beautiful and peaceful.”
When Pam had completed over half of her treatments, Houlton’s Bridge to Hope Walk took place. Pam decided to participate and her family and co-workers rallied around her.
“I received pledges from my family, friends, and co-workers,” said Pam. “At the end of the Walk, the organizers announce how much was raised by the event. That was my ‘AHA moment.’ I wondered what I could do to help raise more money.”
Pam’s answer was to begin selling the handmade purses she was already creating for family and friends as gifts. She also started making a quilt to raffle off every year.
“In 2010, I began making Bosom Buddy Bags to sell as a fundraiser,” said Pam. “I sell them at local craft fairs or individual sales. All proceeds go to Bridge to Hope which then benefits local cancer patients with any type of cancer.”
Pam’s daughter, Amy, began making jewelry to sell alongside her mother with the same benefit in mind. In four short years, the duo has raised $12,000 for the Bridge to Hope Walk.
“For me, having cancer made me think of others more,” said Pam. “I never participated in the Walk before – I now have more concern for what others are going through. I tried to turn my journey into something positive for other people.”
Pam has been cancer-free since 2009 and continues to have her annual mammography and check-ups with her cancer care team.
Her advice for a happy, healthy life?
“You need hope,” said Pam. “Hope is the key to everything.”