Teacher travels 600 miles for Dana-Farber care

In celebration of Living Proof week, Insight honors cancer survivors with daily posts about survivorship. 

In 2008 I discovered that my breast cancer, in remission for several years, had spread to my bones. I had just turned 50 and made a list of things I wanted to try that year: ride a helicopter, taste sake, attend a political rally. Going back into cancer treatment was not on the list.

My oncologist in Virginia suggested a consult with Eric Winer, MD, director of the Breast Oncology Center in the Susan F. Smith Center for Women’s Cancers. After meeting with him I began traveling to Dana-Farber every six months for checkups. I went back on tamoxifen, a drug I had taken for five years after my treatment for breast cancer in 2000. Things seemed to be going well until last year.

Pam ZwemerWhen the cancer cells migrated to my stomach lining in 2011, I joined a clinical trial under Dr. Winer’s care. It is exploring the side effects of two oral medications, letrozole (a hormonal therapy that reduces estrogen production) and BKM120, thought to overcome the cancer’s resistance to hormonal therapy.

Dr. Winer coordinates my care with my oncologist in Virginia, Michael E. Lee, MD. I remember e-mailing Dr. Winer the night I learned the cancer had invaded my stomach. At 10:30 p.m., there he was, on my screen. During my visits I feel comforted by his presence. I know I’m in good hands.

Trusting my care team means I can keep doing what I love – teaching high school math. My school community has helped, raising more than $9,000 for my travel expenses.

Every month I travel to Boston on a Wednesday afternoon, see my care team on Thursday, fly home that night, and am back in the classroom Friday. I want my students to know that having stage IV breast cancer is only part of my identity. I’m still me.

Pam Zwemer chairs the math department at the Oscar Smith High School in Chesapeake, Va., and is a Dana-Farber patient.

2 thoughts on “Teacher travels 600 miles for Dana-Farber care”

  1. Pam you are incredible. I known you will overcome this. You are meant to be an inspiration for your students, colleagues, and all you come in contact with. You are amazing! I miss working and talking with you.

  2. I have worked with Pam as a math teacher in Chesapeake. She is an outstanding person and teacher. Thanks for sharing her story.

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