After her breast cancer diagnosis, she wanted options

Pam Mellick received treatment for her aggressive breast cancer in a clinical trial at Seattle Cancer Care Alliance, Fred Hutch's clinical-care partner.
Pam Mellick received treatment for her aggressive breast cancer in a clinical trial at Seattle Cancer Care Alliance, Fred Hutch's clinical-care partner. Pam Mellick

I'm a 60-year-old wife, mother and grandmother. In January of 2016, I went in for my yearly mammogram.

I had felt a lump — but I have had so many throughout the years that had gone away on their own so, at first, I tried to dismiss any idea of something being wrong. However, I noticed a dimple on the breast that had the lump, and I knew I was in for some news I didn't want to hear.

I had a biopsy at the local breast center and was later told I had invasive ductal carcinoma that was ER-, PR- and HER2+. [Ed. note: These are characteristics of breast cancer that affect tumor biology and guide treatment choices.] It was an aggressive form of breast cancer and had spread to at least one [lymph] node.

My daughters and husband had insisted they be with me when I got the news. I have to say I was not scared when hearing the word “cancer,” but I felt so bad for my family. For me, that was the hard part: seeing them hurt, and making family, friends, and the medical staff aware that now it was my decisions that had to be honored — and I knew I was going to have many decisions to make.

I wanted to live, and I wanted options as to how I was going to fight. After the diagnosis, I went to a local surgeon and oncologist. I was told chemo, surgery, radiation, and a year for treatment. No one suggested any other course I should take to survive. That dismayed me more than the cancer. I wanted to know I had more choices than that before I could make a decision that was going to affect not only me but many others.

So, thank God I was told by another breast cancer survivor to get a second opinion.

I didn't expect to be told I didn't have cancer — again, I just had to believe I had other options. I find that, for me, I have to totally commit when I go into a battle. I can't be halfway — it's all or nothing, and then I will find a way to make that lemonade stuff out of those lemons.

I had already made the decision I was not having surgery locally, and I told the oncologist I needed more time to make a decision that I was going to have to live with. So I called [Fred Hutch’s clinical-care partner] Seattle Cancer Care Alliance the next day. They had me come over not too long after our phone conversation.

On the way to Seattle I still didn't know what to do, but I did know I had to do something. My husband and I prayed the entire way over the pass. We asked God to please make the decision for us and to please help our unbelief/faith.

When we walked into SCCA, I was thinking how small the building is and how it’s not fancy in any way. It just wasn't all that impressive to walk into. But from the moment I started opening my eyes with my heart, I saw so much heart within that facility. From the patients, some with bald heads and walkers, to all the medical staff, I saw smiles, I saw a fierce hope. I told my kids later that it was like being in a fantastic restaurant where all the hungry people go, because they know that is where they will be best fed.

I met that day with my surgeon, Dr. Benjamin Anderson, oncologist Dr. V.K. Gadi, and radiation oncologist Dr. Christine Fang. We were there approximately six hours, and they were so thorough. There was an exam and a consult with them. They then consulted with each other as a team — so important to me to have a team — and then we met for a final consult and their suggestions, which were put on CD for my family and I to have.

Though impressed, I still had not made a decision. Before the final consult, I went to the sanctuary and prayed some more: "Father, please take my unbelief and, again, you make this decision for me.”

It was Dr. Anderson who spoke the words God wanted me to hear — and made my decision for me. He shared a personal story with me that touched my heart and then said he knew I was afraid to let go of control. He smiled and told me there may be another option for me. That was it for me — thank you God — I had my answer; sign me up, and let's go for it.

I didn't know if the option would work, I just wanted to know I had one. And if I could be a part of something that may or may not help another woman facing her own battle, again — thank God!

I knew SCCA was dedicated to educating and healing and was so grateful to them. So after another MRI, a PET scan, and another biopsy, I started on a clinical trial. You’d better believe I was one grateful cheerleader for this cause. I received [the breast cancer drugs] Herceptin and Perjeta every 21 days for four months. In addition, I had another PET scan and biopsy along the way.

My children and husband drove me over every few weeks, and SCCA scheduled everything so that everything that needed to be done could be done the same day. They were so wonderful to us. My family and I made it a celebration on every visit, and we ate at Duke’s on the water every time — yummy!

After the four months, I was told it was time for surgery. In June I went into Fred Hutch, and Dr. Anderson successfully performed a lumpectomy and removal of five nodes. I went home to a local hotel that same day and just slept. The next day we went to the Seattle Goodwill, because that beats a trip to Hawaii, and we celebrated some more. Soon, I was told there was NED [no evidence of disease].

I will forever be grateful to God for getting me to SCCA. We are all going to face many painful issues in life and more than anything I wanted God to heal my unbelief and help me find the good in this. He sure did. He led me to people who are dedicated to providing choice in how we choose to deal with some very personal decisions and the fears that come with them. Thank you, SCCA.

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