Pam Stewart – “My Story”
November 6th, 2017, was just an ordinary Monday. I went to work at the local hospital in our small town, and that evening I left for New Orleans, where I would work the rest of the week. The following morning, however, things began to change. I developed a severe, nauseating headache. Although I had never experienced a headache with nausea, I figured it was most likely due to stress and lack of sleep. My husband urged me to go to the emergency room. Being the typical nurse, I refused to go to the ER for a headache, figuring it would eventually go away if I just gave it time. The next few days were tolerable. However, Sunday, November 12, 2017, was different. I experienced a debilitating headache, which caused me to sleep most of the day. As our oldest daughter was preparing to return to school in Athens, she expressed her concerns about me with my husband. They made the decision I needed to go to the emergency room (ER) and made me go despite my resistance.
Upon arrival to the ER, my co-workers knew something was not right. Thanks to their concern, the ER physician quickly ordered a CT scan, which revealed a mass in my right temporal lobe. There was severe swelling at the tumor site, which had caused my brain
to shift 11mm to the left. Needless to say, this came as a SHOCK to my family and me! Who would have ever imagined a headache would have resulted in this diagnosis??
The staff quickly prepared me for air transport to Augusta, GA. After four days of Neuro-ICU, countless MRIs, CTs, and PET scans, I underwent surgery to remove the tumor. Surgery was successful and recovery went very well, resulting in my discharge within 48 hours of a craniotomy. Six days after surgery, the night before Thanksgiving, I received pathology results — It was a grade 4 Glioblastoma Multiforme (GBM). This was the worst possible diagnosis. GBM is one of the most complex, deadly, and treatment-resistant cancers. GBM is known for its finger-like tentacles, which infiltrate the brain making it difficult to remove completely. According to the neuro-surgeon, my tumor “rolled out” when he accessed the tumor site. The tumor was residing in the right temporal lobe near the surface of my brain. There were no visible finger-like projections, thus allowing a total gross resection. However, he cautioned me that there could be microscopic tentacles that were not visible during surgery.
The standard of care (SOC) for GBM is radiation and chemotherapy. I asked about other treatment options in addition to SOC, such as clinical trials. To my surprise, there were no clinical trials offered in Augusta. After many conversations with other medical professionals, I was led to Duke University’s Preston Robert Tisch Brain Tumor Center. Duke guided my treatment plan and has followed me since December 2017. I undergo frequent MRIs at Duke and will for the rest of my life.
GBM is often referred to as the TERMINATOR because it is the equivalent of a death sentence. The median survival following diagnosis is fifteen to eighteen months, and the five-year survival rate for GBM patients is only 6.8 percent. Through research, I learned there are limited resources for treatment of brain cancer. In the past thirty years, there have only been FOUR drugs and ONE device approved by the FDA for GBM. Brain Cancer research is the most underfunded of ALL cancer research! I also learned that brain cancer treatment is the most expensive cancer to treat, often leaving patients and families with major financial hardship.
Despite these daunting facts and figures, there is HOPE! I found HOPE through Duke’s program and the support of family and friends! Just months following diagnosis, my family, close friends, and I knew we had to help TERMINATE brain cancer and help those faced with this debilitating diagnosis. We hosted THE TERMINATOR 5K/1 Mile Walk in April 2019. Thanks to the tremendous support of our community, we donated $10,540 to the Prseston Robert Tisch Brain Tumor Center at Duke. These unrestricted funds are crucial since they can be used freely for brain cancer research.
In 2020, we formed the Pam Stewart Cancer Foundation, Inc. (PSCF), a 501(c)3 entity. Funds raised through the PSCF will be used to support brain cancer research at Duke University, as well as to aid those diagnosed with brain cancer through a grant up to $2000 to be used towards medical expenses, travel expenses for treatment, housing, etc.
I HOPE you will join us in our efforts to TERMINATE brain cancer and to help those who face this overwhelming diagnosis. As Hellen Keller once said, “Alone we can do so little; together we can do so much!”
Never give up HOPE,
The Pam Stewart Cancer Foundation (PSCF) exists to help fund brain cancer research and to assist brain tumor patients and their families manage the financial burdens while they are focused on their treatment.
One Person Can Make A Difference
Once upon a time, there was an old man who used to go to the ocean to do his writing. He had a habit of walking on the beach every morning before he began his work. Early one morning, he was walking along the shore after a big storm had passed and found the vast beach littered with starfish as far as the eye could see, stretching in both directions.
Off in the distance, the old man noticed a small boy approaching. As the boy walked, he paused every so often and as he grew closer, the man could see that he was occasionally bending down to pick up an object and throw it into the sea. The boy came closer still and the man called out, “Good morning! May I ask it is that you are doing?” The young boy paused, looked up, and replied “Throwing starfish into the ocean. The tide has washed them up onto the beach and they can’t return to the sea by themselves,” the youth replied. “When the sun gets high, they will die, unless I throw them back into the water.”
The old man replied, “But there must be tens of thousands of starfish on this beach. I’m afraid you won’t really be able to make much of a difference.”
The boy bent down, picked up yet another starfish and threw it as far as he could into the ocean. Then he turned, smiled and said, “It made a difference to that one!”
– adapted from The Star Thrower, by Loren Eiseley (1907 – 1977)
All of us have the opportunity to help create positive change, but we often find ourselves thinking, “I don’t have time, or how much of a difference will I really make.” This is especially true when thinking about cancer. When I find myself thinking like this, it helps to remember this story. I may not be able to eradicate cancer, but if I am able to make a difference in the life of one person fighting cancer, my mission has been accomplished.