One cancer survivor’s success story

By April 2, 2011

When Pam Mari received a call in June that something suspicious had turned up on her recent mammogram, she was more irritated than anything else.

“I’d been called back in before and it was always nothing,” said Mari, director of student services for the Davis school district. “I felt quite inconvenienced actually, and was in a bit of snit when I went back in.”

But this time it turned out to be something after all, and Mari ended up grateful it was caught so early.

“They literally caught the cancer at the cellular level,” she noted, and because of that, she had many more options for treatment than had the breast cancer been more advanced.

“A very good reason for early detection is that you get options,” she noted. “Later down the line, there just aren’t as many.”

Her first choice, a lumpectomy, didn’t work out because of the cancer’s location, so she ended up having a mastectomy and will take the drug Tamoxifen for the next five years. But she avoided radiation and chemotherapy, and her prognosis is very good, with just a 5 percent chance of recurrence.

Between mid-July and mid-January, Mari missed just about a month of work and was able to work from home as well. Now she’s spreading the word to everyone she knows — and for good reason. At least one friend took heed and learned she had a dangerous form of the cancer earlier than she otherwise would have.

“Everyone ran out for mammograms,” Mari said. “On the one hand, it’s a private ordeal. But on the other hand, it’s an epidemic, and we need to help each other take care of ourselves. So if talking about it means that people will have regular checkups, let’s talk about it.”

Mari believes her breast cancer likely was the result of her prolonged use of hormone replacement therapy, begun following her bout with bone cancer 20 years ago. HRT was long believed to help with bone density and Mari was expecting to take it for the rest of her life. But now it’s linked to breast cancer as well.

Mari figures the bone cancer two decades ago and the breast cancer last year are “one big event.”

And getting through both, she said, required the love of family and friends.

“The power of support systems cannot be overstated. Knowing the people you work with want you to come back to work, and that your family is there at the drop of the hat mean everything, as does knowing the work you do is the best possible thing you could be doing for your life’s work,” she said.

“Bone cancer 20 years ago took me from being a very physically active person to a disabled person in a day,” said Mari, who uses a cane. “It changed everything.”

This bout of cancer was different, she said: “This is much more personal, but it will lead me to better places.

“You can say ‘Why me?’ Or you can say, ‘How is this a conduit to greater meaning in my life?’ ”

— Reach Anne Ternus-Bellamy at [email protected] or (530) 747-8051.

Anne Ternus-Bellamy

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