Breast cancer survivor honored as 'Hutch Hero'

Pamela Mushen — cancer survivor and determined mom, teacher — to be honored by Fred Hutch and Mariners
Pam Mushen and her son Jeffery
Pamela Mushen and her youngest son, Jeffery, during her 1997 treatment for breast cancer. Photo courtesy of Pamela Mushen

Editor’s Note: Throughout the 2018 Major League Baseball season, Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center and the Seattle Mariners are recognizing “Hutch Heroes,” individuals who face cancer with the same determination and spirit as our center’s namesake, Seattle baseball legend Fred Hutchinson. We are proud to share more about one of our featured Hutch Heroes here, and we invite you to show your support for them — and help fuel discoveries that can start cures — by donating to Fred Hutch.

When Pamela Mushen was diagnosed with stage 3 breast cancer on Christmas Eve of 1996, her first thought was that she had to get her youngest boy, Jeffery, then 12, through high school.

“You kind of become a different person if your mom dies at that age,” Mushen said. “My deal was, ‘Just let me get him through high school. Let me get him formed.’”

That resolve helped Mushen get through a lumpectomy, radiation, chemotherapy and a grueling, experimental stem cell transplant.

Today Jeffery, who will turn 34 next month, has a child of his own — Mushen’s first granddaughter. And she has five lively grandsons from her two older boys, twins Jesse and Jeremiah.

“I feel very blessed,” Mushen said.

Pamela Mushen and Dr. E. Donnall Thomas
Dr. E. Donnall Thomas, who received the 1990 Nobel Prize in physiology or medicine, chats with cancer survivor Pamela Mushen in this undated photo. Thomas died in 2012 at the age of 92. Photo courtesy of Pamela Mushen

All three boys and their father, David, will be at Safeco Field Thursday when Mushen is honored by the Mariners and Fred Hutch, where the late Dr. E. Donnall Thomas pioneered bone marrow transplantation as a way to harness the immune system to cure leukemia and other blood cancers. Although such transplants have not become standard for patients with breast cancer, researchers continue to explore ways to apply the same basic principles of immunotherapy to breast and other solid tumors. Pam and David Mushen support those efforts through membership in the Thomas Legacy Society.

David Mushen was 9 years old when he lost his own dad to cancer. Grateful for his wife’s treatment, he wanted to give back. Thursday’s ballpark ceremony is all the more special because the couple also are longtime supporters of the Hutch Award Luncheon, which raises funds for cancer research while honoring the winner of one of the top annual awards given to a Major League Baseball player.

A life of determination

Before her diagnosis, Mushen, a former litigator, had switched to teaching to have more time with son Jeffery. About a year into her recovery, she landed her first full-time teaching job. Something convinced her new supervisor to take a chance on her even though he wasn’t sure she had the energy to last the year.

Did she ever. As a history teacher at Seattle’s Chief Sealth High School, Mushen launched a China student exchange program, as well as extracurricular debate and mock-trial teams, all of which are still in place.

After retiring in 2014, she became active in University Sunrise Rotary and on the boards of the Academy of Finance and Bright Futures — while always making time for her sons and grandchildren.

The Hutch Hero celebration is especially meaningful just now for another reason.

Years ago, still early on in her cancer treatment, a radiologist told Mushen, “Don’t worry until they tell you to worry.”

She took that advice to heart.

“I spent more sleepless nights worrying about my children through the years than worrying about cancer,” she said.

Today, she is following that advice again. Recently hospitalized for heart disease, Mushen — who has weathered diabetes since her 20s and then the cancer — is taking the new diagnosis in stride, confident in her doctors and treatment. With her husband and sons at her side, she is once again determined to be happy, not worried.

“This has made us remember a little bit,” she said. “It will be very cathartic to be out there celebrating together.”

Pamela and David Mushen talk about how they got through her cancer together. Video by Robert Hood / Fred Hutch News Service

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