By ANNEMARIE SCHUETZ
BETHEL, NY — A couple decades ago, Pam McDermott, a nurse from New York City, bought some land in Bethel and built a log cabin. This isn’t a relaxing …
BETHEL, NY — A couple decades ago, Pam McDermott, a nurse from New York City, bought some land in Bethel and built a log cabin. This isn’t a relaxing occupation—it’s a lot of stress—so she wasn’t surprised that she’d lost “a lot of weight,” she said. She lost 20 pounds, in fact.
“And then something told me to do a breast check.”
As simple as that. The inner voice, that tiny reminder, easily missed.
McDermott didn’t ignore it. And she found a lump.
“So, off I went to the Catskill Regional Medical Center (CRMC) [now Garnet Health] clinic. They did a mammogram and saw something, then did an ultrasound.”
Then came the biopsy. “And they said, ‘You need surgery, like, tomorrow.’”
She had a mastectomy. “I woke up without my left breast,” she said. “Then it was three months of chemo and one month of radiation.”
Time has not eased the memories, nor her determination. “I told myself, ‘I’m not going to die from this.’”
She did everything she could to make that happen. The treatments. Meditation. She envisioned little Pac-Men, gobbling up the cancer cells. “A lot of praying.”
And she hasn’t died of it.
Then there was a second round. Eventually, she was diagnosed with lung cancer, “on the left side,” she says, “and they only gave me five years.”
That was five years ago.
She’s still here. “I’m always holding onto hope.”
Cancer, as has often been said, is a war. You’re at war, and you’re allied with your body, fighting the enemy. “I’ve felt defeated,” McDermott says. “But I had to beat this. You have to stay strong and fight through it.”
What else has kept her going?
That determination. “You must never think, ‘I’m going to die.’ Because then you’ll die.”
Support. “I went to meetings at CRMC.” She can’t speak highly enough of these meetings, because there’s no support like that you receive from people who have been through this, too. “Women don’t know how this changes you.”
Like how? “Once you lose your breast...” She trails off, thinking aloud about some women who prefer to reconstruct the breast so their shape is right, so they feel better about themselves. You can hear McDermott’s shrug over the phone. Everyone reacts differently.
What surprised her? The nurses. “How loving they were.”
These days, McDermott is at home because of the coronavirus, and that’s its own challenge. But she keeps going, staying strong. Fighting her battles. “Hope is my motto,” she said. “Always hold onto hope. There’s always a chance.”