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Dealing with the big ‘C’ with a dose of big ‘F’

Interview with Lauren Pamponette, breast cancer survivor, cervical cancer patient.

Q: Can you tell us, first of all, a little bit about your Catholic background?

I was born into the Catholic faith. I went to school at St Joseph’s RC. I made my First Communion there at the school. Then we moved to where we used to go to, St Charles. We moved from there, we came to Arima, where I made my Confirmation. And I went to St Charles Girls’ High School, so I’ve been among the Catholic influence a lot. And I am happy that I have been brought up from my parents teaching me good values and knowing Christ. In my life, I have seen that there is a God and He has been there for me despite all that I’ve been through.

Q: I know you had breast cancer first and are now undergoing treatment for cervical cancer. How were you first diagnosed with cancer?

I’m the first in the family to have been diagnosed with cancer. In 2018, I felt a lump in the breast. You know, listening and reading to different facts of life and health, you tend to start to do a little thing for yourself. So, on doing that [self-examination], I felt the lump and  I went to the doctor, and they did an ultrasound, and they came back, they said that it was inconclusive. Nothing to worry about. But here it is, come 2018, 2019, my dad got sick, and he died.

And I don’t know, maybe from the stress and all that, I realised that the lump getting bigger. So, I said, something is going on here. I went back by the doctor to go and do another mammogram and ultrasound. And when the results came back, he said, it’s questionable now.

A neighbour said we’ll get a letter; a referral letter and I’m taking you down to the hospital. So, we got a letter. I went and met with Dr Bascombe. This is a time during COVID, right? So, he said, when I deal with my patients, I let them know one time that you might have cancer. It can go either way. He said, all right, we’re going to do a biopsy. We did the biopsy on both breasts. Within a week to two weeks, the results came back. I met with him. He said, “okay, Lauren, I have to tell you, your right breast is positive for cancer. Your left breast is critical.” I’m there watching him and he’s watching me and I’m watching him. He said, “are you okay?” I said, “yes.” And he said, “are you okay?” I said, “yes, I am. Why?” He said, “because I am just watching and you’re just watching”. I said, “remember your words. Prepare yourself that it’s going to go either way. So, I started to prepare myself.” And so, I did.

It was a little hard pill to swallow, but when I came home, you know, letting mommy know, she started crying. I said, you know what? We cannot be praying and worrying. I said, ‘if you’re crying, I know you’re worrying and I’m going to start worrying’. I have no intentions of worrying. I said, “God, do this for me”. And as day came by and the schedule, my chemo, I had eight rows of chemo. Four first. And then I had two more. And then the surgery, and then we continued the four.

It was amazing. The day of the surgery now, my lung power is at 7.2. So, they decided that they’re going to do the chemo first, so kind of shrink it first instead of doing surgery first because they might have to remove too much. So that’s why they did the chemo first. The day of my surgery, Dr Bascombe had to do an ultrasound because he could not find the lump. When they did the ultrasound, the lump went down to 2.1.

He told the nurses and everyone, if he was not the one who was with me from day one, he wouldn’t have believed what was going on. I didn’t get the anaesthetic. I just said, that’s God’s work. And here it says I was on stage three already. So, after the surgery, I continued the four and then I did radiation. The hair dropped. I was bald head, which everybody loved how I looked.

My treatment was over the course of two years. And in that process of healing, I came and got Covid. So, recovering from cancer, chemo, radiation, which takes a toll on your lungs. I was treated very fast with the Covid. The only thing I kept telling people, I felt like an elephant on my chest. And then that subsided.

Now, all this time I was not seeing my mom because I didn’t want to go there and risk her getting (Covid), because she had high blood pressure and diabetes. I used to call her on the phone.

And they got sick. She and my aunt got sick. My aunt got sick first. While mommy knew she was sick, she didn’t know mommy was sick. And they both passed away on October 30, 2021. Mommy was 2.15 in the morning and my aunt was 4.15 in the afternoon.

Q: And then you were diagnosed with cervical cancer?

Some months ago, when going to the gynaecologist, she did an internal exam, and she felt a mass as she said. I met with Dr Quinlan. I must say that everything went like a click of a finger with me. And it has been like that from day one.

And the people that I’ve met, they have made me feel so comfortable, so relaxed, you know? And when I met with Dr Quinlan, one time they scheduled an MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) because they said CT (computerised tomography) scans don’t tend to give you detailed reading.

I did the MRI, and, in the MRI, they saw that the mass was there. We reached Stage 2. They said it’s still good, but the only thing that I wanted to do was surgery. But they will not advise me surgery as yet. They want to shrink and get rid of the deep mass.

Now I am going through radiation plus chemo five days a week. Monday is both chemo and radiation and for the rest of the week is radiation. So that is, in a nutshell, my process right now. And I have completed three of the chemo, so I have three more.

Q: How did you know something was wrong this time?

My discharge was moving from clear liquid to a more cloudy look in appearance and I did not feel that was right. Plus, I was getting, below my navel there, I used to get a pain. You know, I think it’s like period pain, but yet still not period pain. The last period was in 2020. So, I knew it was not that. And I must say, I was a little lackadaisical on my side by not doing my pap smears.

Q: Tell me about your support system.

Excellent. From my family to my neighbours. Well, my family, my husband, my sister, they have my back. My neighbours, you know, I have a neighbour here, if she doesn’t see me, she calls. Everybody’s praying for me. I have prayer warriors as they call themselves.

My husband, he’s a retired police officer. So, his batch every day they send me the quotes. You know, they make sure that if I’m feeling down, they tell me call them. That is a very important thing (support) because it’s something you can’t go through by yourself. You might try, you might say, ‘I can handle this by myself’. Sometimes you just need that little hug or that little smile.

I do Mass on TV. But when everything was over, I started going back to church as usual. But just for these few days that I’m going through treatment, I tend to feel a little bit uncomfortable.

Q: Was your faith affected at all by all the challenges you have been facing?

God put me in this position to help someone out there. Right? I am not going to question God and say, ‘God, why me?’ There are days that I don’t feel good. Like yesterday I was not feeling good at all. And I still say, “Lord, thank you. I am alive. Right? I am alive and I know you’re going to lead me, get me through it to see another day”. And I have that strength. I met with my priest, and he told me, he said, “talking with you, you are a strong individual”.

Q: You sound so calm.

I try my best, you know, just to think positive. I have happy thoughts. I listen to music. I like playing games on the phone. “You have to’, you have to magnify it. You have to glorify His name. I felt absolutely God was with me because the last time I had my mom. No matter what, your mom is your mom. When I realised, I have to go through this time without her, I cried a little. But then I said, You know, and she’s with You and she’s going to beg You to take care of me. She’s going to, we had a conversation, God and I. I, she’s going to beg You. And my aunt, they will just come and sit down next to You and talk to You and tell You, You have to take care of her.”

I started to feel that calmness, that God is there with me, and He has two angels with Him presently, behind His back, making sure that He looks after me. And I know there will be days, Simone, that I don’t feel good. And I say, “thank You, Lord”. Like sometimes three o’clock, most of the times three o’clock, I get up in the morning. And at that time, I will lay on my bed, and I would start to talk with Him.

But during all the time, sometimes I just say, “thank You, thank You, thank You”, and you will not believe I start to feel better. Because I have that belief that when I tell Him, ‘thank You’, He will know that I am sincerely thanking Him. And I’m not just saying this, you know, I am pleased with my Lord. I know that He’s going to get me through this. He is bringing me through this. This is just another stepping stone, right? Another little bit of experience, you know, that He puts me through. I’ve been through so much that, you know, I just, I just smile about it.

Q: What kind of advice would you give women?

Go and do their checkups. I believe once you’re sexually active, you go, you start doing your pap smear.  You do your self-examination, get to know yourself, your body. When you know your body, you can tell when something is wrong, right? You don’t have to wait for a guy or woman with a PhD. You will need their advice, but your first detection will be from you.