Meet the Warrior Who Slayed Her Breast Cancer Dragon Using The Power of Positive Thinking
“I went in for my three-D mammogram, then followed up two days later with an ultrasound and needle biopsy. Two days after that my doctor called and told me it was cancer.” - Pam Ortega
My friend from college Pam Ortega, prior to her breast cancer diagnosis.
I first met Pam Ortega in October 2016, a statuesque, brunette-haired beauty with an infectious smile. Soaking up the sunshine at our college reunion, we joked about how much the world had changed since we were students, happily exchanging stories about “these kids today.” Our conversation lasted only a few moments, but the happiness and contentment that lived within this woman reached out to shake my hand and made quite an impression.
A year later I would learn she had breast cancer and was fighting for her life.
One in 8 women will be diagnosed with breast cancer in their lifetime, and the disease doesn’t play favorites when choosing where it will strike next. The woman that stood before me, glowing in the California sunshine looked perfectly healthy, was a proud wife and mom of 2 great kids, and was living life to its fullest. I would never have guessed breast cancer could enter the picture.
WATCH: One in 8 women will be diagnosed with breast cancer in their lifetime. For the She-Compass team, this time it hits close to home. Meet college buddy Pam Ortega, who in November 2017 received the diagnosis no woman wants to hear: She had breast cancer.
But it did. Last November Pam became one of the estimated 252,710 women in the United States diagnosed with breast cancer, specifically estrogen-positive, HER 2-positive. She had no predisposition to the disease—genetic testing confirmed she did not carry the BRCA mutation that’s traditionally associated with breast cancer susceptibility, and no one on either side of her family had ever had breast cancer.
Yet Pam was determined to give her cancer diagnosis a fight that only a warrior could deliver; she was determined to “tackle this head on” and take things “one week at a time.” She joined us on The She-Compass Show to share her story and the advice she would give to other women still fighting the breast cancer battle.
Pam Ortega, one year later. A warrior indeed.
“The one thing about breast cancer is that you don’t have control over anything,” she says. “The only thing you can control is how you process it and how you let people in.”
Pam is the first to admit that the physical battle is not by any means easy, but she focused on keeping her mind and spirit strong. “How you go through diagnosis and treatment has a lot to do with how you were beforehand. I was a strong person before the diagnosis, and as women we’re supposed to be strong, but it’s okay to experience and feel whatever you’re feeling. When I did have my meltdowns and get upset, I would have my family there to support me. Spiritual health provides us a place to be completely vulnerable, and this made me stronger.”
This past April she completed chemotherapy and in August completed the last of her 8 weeks of targeted radiation; she is optimistic about her upcoming November one-year-follow-up mammogram appointment.
To that end, Pam wants us all to know one thing: that being a breast cancer warrior means you never stop fighting. “Had I not gone through cancer I know I would be a completely different person. I focused on what was important and let go of everything else. You can only worry about getting well and you have to put yourself first.” Her diagnosis was also a reality check for women in her circle; girlfriends who hadn’t had mammograms “in 5 years told their mothers and aunts, who’d never had mammograms,” to get checked.
Pam’s story is a reminder to us all to keep our health top of mind and to bravely crest whatever rogue waves life has in store. “Don’t compare yourself to anybody else,” she says, “because everyone’s experience is different. Let yourself experience any emotion and let people help you. You will get through it.”
The American Cancer Society recommends starting annual breast cancer screening between 40 and 45. Contact your physician to determine what’s best for you, and of course report any changes in your breast health right away.