If there’s one lesson Pam Edwards hopes others learn from her story, it’s to listen and pay attention to your body, and if something doesn’t seem right, see your doctor.
On October 3, 2019, Edwards met, for the first time, with Dr. Chip Wall at the OCH Center for Breast Health & Imaging in Starkville after a spot was found on her mammogram.
“After meeting with him he said, ‘I would really like to do a biopsy on that spot.’ I said, okay, I’ll just make an appointment at the front, and he said, ‘no, I’d really like to do it right now if you have time,’” explained Edwards. “He did the biopsy at the Center that day, and from there, everything was like clockwork. I truly believe Dr. Wall was an instrument in God’s plan.”
With expectations of receiving the results by Tuesday, Edwards returned home and received a call from Dr. Wall the very next day, a Friday at 5:45 p.m., with the news no one ever expects to get: the spot was malignant.
“He said, ‘The biopsy confirmed my suspicion. It is malignant.’ He told me I would need chemo to shrink the spot before doing surgery, and he had already talked to the oncologist.”
Edwards would soon learn that cancer wasn’t the most immediate threat to her life. Before her port surgery with Dr. Wall at OCH Regional Medical Center, she met with the oncologist and told him about pain and tightness she had been experiencing in her upper arms for the past year. Later, a stress test identified the source of her pain: two 90% blockages at each end of the LAD artery, also known as “the widowmaker.” This came as a surprise to Edwards, who recently had a healthy heart exam and received a good report.
“My heart surgeon told us that if I had not mentioned the issues I was having, I would not have survived the port placement surgery. I give praise to God for prompting me to mention my symptoms and my oncologist listening and taking prompt action,” said Edwards.
Just two weeks after a cancer diagnosis, Edwards was scheduled for a procedure to place two stents in the blocked artery.
“After the stents were put in, I had to lie still for a long time, and when I finally stood up, I realized I couldn’t pick my leg up to walk,” said Edwards.
An MRI revealed two pieces of plaque escaped during the procedure, traveling to her brain resulting in two mini strokes. For Edwards, it seemed as though she couldn’t comprehend one diagnose before contending with the next one.
As an avid listener and singer of gospel music, Edwards said she heard the words to a familiar song when faced with each new challenge, “It was as if this one line was on replay: Even in the Valley God Is Good! And I can testify to the fact that He is good all the time, even when we aren’t and don’t deserve His goodness and grace.”
Edwards hadn’t come this far to let a stroke stop her. Determined to overcome her latest challenge, she worked with the physical therapist to regain complete use of her legs and arms. Ten days after returning home from heart surgery, Edwards began chemotherapy - just over three weeks after her initial diagnosis of breast cancer.
“Dr. Wall called me at home to check on me, and I told him, ‘I’d be lying if I said it was easy, but I’ll be alright,’” said Edwards, explaining that along with the normal chemo side effects of hair loss, she experienced multiple layers of skin loss on several fingers and numerous ulcers in her mouth and esophagus. This, coupled with a low white blood cell count, prevented her from all but necessary human contact - her husband, Jimmy, and her mother, Bamer Dorsey, who she said played a huge part in her recovery.
A scan in January showed the tumor had shrunk enough for surgery, and Edwards was scheduled for a lumpectomy at OCH with Dr. Wall.
The region’s only fellowship-trained surgical breast oncologist, Dr. Wall explained chemo is not always recommended prior to having surgery. Certain indications, such as in Edwards’ case of a tumor in the muscle of the chest wall, require chemo first to shrink the tumor, making breast conservation possible, as opposed to a mastectomy. Dr. Wall performed a lumpectomy, removing the abnormal tissue.
“The level of care Dr. Wall provides is amazing, and you couldn’t ask for anyone to be kinder. I couldn’t have received better care anywhere else,” said Edwards. “I was surprised to hear I could get genetic testing here, and just the other day when I came, I was able to have a bone density scan at the center, too. It’s a one-stop-shop. You don’t have to go from appointment to appointment. You can have it all done right here, and I don’t think people realize that!”
This September 30th Edwards received some good news. Almost a full 12 months since her diagnosis in 2019, her mammogram was clear, and she's getting used to her new look. Her hair grew back with its own style without any help from hair stylists at Allure Salon, the salon she and her daughter, Athena Hewlett, co-own.
"God knows how to grow hair!," said Edwards.
Without the cancer diagnosis, Edwards believes the life-threatening blockage in her heart might have only been detected after it was too late.
“Getting cancer saved my life,” said Edwards. “I tell everyone - it’s all for a purpose. God has given me a testimony. There’s a reason I’m still here, and if it’s to help one soul, then it’s all worth it to me.”