MCA Patient: Pam Schilz
Survivor Since: April 2008
Diagnosis: Acute Myeloid Leukemia
Missouri Cancer Care Team:
- Medical Oncologist: Uma Ramadoss, M.D.
- Christy Phillips, RN
Chemotherapy Care Team:
- Amy Boyle, RN
- Danielle Kleithermes, RN
- Denise Huff, RN
- Erin Swift, RN
- Johanna Joes, RN
- Mung Chin, RN
At age 50, after an eight-and-a-half-year cancer battle, Pam Schilz has found that finding your way in life means being open to new directions.
Working as a nurse in 2008, Pam was looking forward to a new adventure in her life – an opportunity to live and work for three months as a travel nurse in California.
“Then everything changed,” she says.
On one of her first mornings in California, she fell and broke her arm. A visit to the orthopedic doctor unearthed questions.
“He said something didn’t look right, that he couldn’t explain,” Pam says about the doctor’s assessment of her broken arm.
Shortly afterward, the doctor’s confusion was made clear: Pam was diagnosed with multiple myeloma, cancer of the bone marrow. The pain and fatigue she’d been feeling for years took on new meaning.
“I knew about myeloma,” she says. “I’d taken care of people with myeloma. But everything you think you knew flies out the window. Now it’s your story.”
From nurse to patient
Prior to breaking her arm in California, Pam had attributed the fatigue and pain she’d been feeling to her work as a nurse. Twelve- to 14-hour shifts take a toll on the body. “Nursing is hard,” she says. “I thought it was muscle strain.” As an oncology nurse at Boone Hospital, she’d had experience taking care of the sickest of the sick, so drawing a comparison to her own situation was difficult. She thought she knew what she was in for, and even though she found some comfort in the insight her medical experience brought her, she says her overall knowledge of cancer patients was “tough” to handle in light of her diagnosis. Through care at Missouri Cancer Associates, she discovered a different side of cancer than she knew from her work as an oncology nurse. “I saw that people did live fairly normal lives,” she says. In 2008, she began stem cell treatments. She received high doses of chemotherapy to kill cells, including the myeloma cells, in the bone marrow, followed by the transplant of new, healthy, blood-forming stem cells.
“I feel like I am going to visit family, not going for treatment,” she says about receiving care at Missouri Cancer Associates. “They are all good people at Missouri Cancer Associates, very caring. When you think you want to cry, they make you laugh every time.”
After a second stem cell treatment in 2012, Pam now receives weekly doses of chemotherapy at Missouri Cancer Associates to keep her myeloma in check, and she’ll continue on this course for the rest of her life, changing chemo medication when needed. “Myeloma gets used to certain medicine,” she says about her weekly treatment. “It finds a way around it.”
A new normal
Although Pam says she “feels pretty good,” the fatigue and nausea she feels after her weekly treatment leaves her reluctant to work. “I miss nursing,” she says. “I think I was a good nurse, caring – but I can’t physically do it now.” Guilt over not working sets in for Pam, knowing that other cancer patients do work through treatment, but she knows how she feels during the week and what she is capable of. Nursing is “full-on, every hour of every day,” she says. She knows she can’t give 100 percent to her patients, and she worries about the forgetfulness that comes with chemo brain. Now, she spends a lot of her day enjoying the “simple life” and those passions and things that bring peace and enjoyment to her, such as reading, cheering on the St. Louis Cardinals (she admits she’s a bit fanatical), her cat and the Missouri River view from her home. Studying myeloma and looking for ways to help others with the disease also fills her time. “Right now, this is where I need to be,” she says.
Finding – and Giving Support
Fulfilling her need to care for others, Pam has found a way to give back to and support others through the online community for cancer patients and survivors at crazysexylife.com, a site developed by Kris Carr as she fights her own battle with cancer. “I’m a homebody,” Pam says. “I tried support groups but never felt they were the right thing for me.” The online community has brought meaningful connections to Pam as she has found others battling myeloma. Online, she has discovered support and a network that fits her, from crazysexylife.com to the doctors she follows on Twitter. “You find the people you are seeking, one way or another,” she says. “You just have to get out of your comfort zone and reach out.” As she has adjusted to the new “normal” she has found in life, Pam says her perspective has changed. “The things I thought were important back then (before diagnosis), they don’t worry me now,” she says. “You have to take every day and get what good you can out of it.”