If there is one piece of advice Pam Schnieders could offer others diagnosed with breast cancer, it is to listen to your body and advocate for yourself if you feel like something isn’t right. She followed her own advice after she found a lump in her breast in 2007.
“They did a mammogram and an ultrasound and told me it was nothing. The next year I went back because it was still there and for a yearly checkup. Again, they said they could not see it, but I told my doctor you could feel it,” she said. “We did a biopsy in the office that day, and they were not in the right spot and did not perform a radiology guided one. … In 2009, it was bigger and started getting sore, so at that point, we scheduled a lumpectomy.”
They took out the lump and the doctor told Pam she still didn’t think it was anything, but then she called her over the weekend, telling her to not be alone during a follow-up surgery appointment she had the next week.
“So she told me then that I had cancer,” Pam said, noting the diagnosis came in March 2009. Coming with her to the appointment was Pam’s mom, family members and her boss at Women’s and Children’s Hospital in Columbia where the Jefferson City native has worked as the supervisor of the respiratory therapy department for the last 12 years. “My boss’s mother had passed away from breast cancer so (she) was a great person for me to lean on at that time.”
Pam began her cancer treatment with a bilateral mastectomy and initial reconstruction surgery later that same month, followed by four sessions of chemotherapy from May to July with Dr. Tamara Hopkins. In August, she finished her reconstruction surgery. Then, in September, she opted to do a PET scan and another discovery was made.
“My friends had PET scans when they were finished with their cancer treatments to make sure there wasn’t anything left. Since I was stage 1C of breast cancer, I wouldn’t need one, but when I found out my insurance would pay for it I went ahead and did it,” she said. “The results showed I had thyroid cancer.”
In October and November, Pam had another surgery and had radioactive iodine treatment – a radioactive pill where iodine attaches to the thyroid cells that may be cancerous and kills them. As a precautionary measure, Pam had one more surgery: a full hysterectomy. Since one of her medications she takes following cancer could cause uterine cancer and her breast cancer was estrogen and progesterone positive, she had her ovaries removed. In March 2019, she will be in complete remission for 10 years.
As Pam went through her fight with breast cancer, she was honest with her two daughters, now 16-year-old Kaylee and 12-year-old Claire. A mother of one of the girls’ friends had breast cancer about a year before Pam was diagnosed, and they saw how she survived.
“From the beginning, I told them it was cancer,” she said. “I put it in simple terms for them.”
Through her fight she was thankful for the support she received from her family, friends and co-workers. Her sister stepped up to cut her hair when she began to lose it. Her parents spent a couple weeks with her after her surgery to care for her and her girls.
“People at work donated money to get a housekeeper, so we had someone come twice a month for three months to help. They had gift cards that were also donated from work. My friends in Jefferson City had a meal train, so someone would show up every evening and bring us dinner (or gift cards to order dinner) for a little more than a month,” the Helias High School graduate and Mizzou graduate said. “The support from friends and family was overwhelming. At the time, I appreciated it. About a year ago, I went back through all the cards I got and I think I was more emotional about it then. Because when you are in it you are trying to deal with all these emotions, keep yourself well and keep on track with all the medications you are supposed to take. Going back about a year ago, it was just amazing to really realize how much support you have from family and friends.”
She also gained support from other breast cancer survivors, including high school classmate and friend Shay Wahl, who is also a model in Strut Your Style. She also became very close with another breast cancer survivor, Dana Kliethermes.
Kliethermes, who was diagnosed with breast cancer at 35, faced adversity head on, raising two children, losing her mother and battling the disease all within a two-year span. However, her positive attitude, strength and courage saw her through that time. She had modeled during the Strut Your Style show for two years, with plans to return for a third before she unexpectedly died from a heart attack this summer. Pam, who will model for her third time at the Strut Your Style Fashion Show & Luncheon, will speak about her dear friend Kliethermes at the upcoming event.
“I never saw her not have a smile on her face,” she said. “We talked about what we had been through. … She was that support person that was there for anything, anytime you needed her.”
Wahl was the one who got Pam involved in Strut Your Style, having modeled in the show before. Pam admits she was hesitant at first, knowing modeling was out of her comfort zone. But she watched her friends Shay and Dana stay calm, cool and collected, giving her the boost of confidence she needed.
“It is a great network and we make great friends out of it, too,” she said. “It is nice when you are up there and look out into the crowd and see people you know there supporting all of us and the organization.”
Getting to know more about the Community Breast Care Project, she plans to do more in advocating for the organization and support of those going through breast cancer in the future when her girls get out of school. For now, she loves being a part of Strut Your Style and lives every day to the fullest.
“I am very thankful for every single day I have. I don’t dread having birthdays anymore. People say, you don’t want to turn 40, and I say, ‘Yes, I really do want to turn 40.’ And I did, and now I get to turn 46 this year. I look forward to the day that I can be more of a support to people who get that breast cancer diagnosis, if there is not a cure by then,” she said with a smile.
Click here to read Nancy K. Gratz’s story.
Click here to read Lori Hoelscher’s story.
Click here to read Liz Morrow’s story.
Click here to read a special tribute to the late Strut Your Style model and breast cancer survivor Dana Kliethermes.
Find out more about the Strut Your Style Fashion Show & Luncheon here.