For five weeks, Pam Wood had a daily routine: Work eight hours and then get radiation treatment.
She spent her days working as a housekeeper on the critical care unit of Johnson Memorial Hospital in Franklin. Following each shift and before she left the hospital, she underwent a radiation treatment.
Wood is no stranger to the oncology floor at the hospital. She has had a recurring tumor removed three times in the past 15 years.
But this year, the tumor was cancerous.
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During those 15 years and two cancer scares — in 2000 and 2009 — Wood formed a bond with surgeon Dr. Dana Lindsay at Johnson Memorial.
When the third tumor formed, Lindsay suggested Wood have a mastectomy, which would make the tumor less likely to come back in the future.
“I told (Lindsay), ‘I have confidence in you.’ So I think she was the one who really helped me through it,” Wood said.
Each time, Wood had a phyllodes tumor, which is a rare type of tumor that only shows up in women, typically between the ages of 25 and 50, Lindsay said. Typically, the tumors return every 10 years or so. She said doctors do not know what causes the tumors or what can prevent their return.
In her 18 years at Johnson Memorial, she has never encountered another patient whose phyllodes tumors turned malignant like Wood’s did, Lindsay said.
Wood first felt the tumor in December. But she had her annual mammogram coming up in January, so she decided to wait until after the holidays to see a doctor. She had been through this twice, and neither time was the tumor cancerous.
But by the time she had her mammogram, the tumor had grown to 10 cm and was continuing to grow rapidly, she said.
“This thing grew so much faster than all the rest of them,” she said.
A needle biopsy showed that the tumor was cancerous.
With the two previous benign tumors, Wood had a lumpectomy and was back at work within a few days. This time, surgery and recovery would be much more intense.
Wood had a single mastectomy in the spring, which required her to take six weeks off work to recover. In March, she started five weeks of radiation treatments.
‘It wore me out’
Wood only had two weeks of paid time off from work but had to be out for six weeks after her mastectomy since doctors ask their patients to not lift their arms for six weeks after the surgery, while their skin is healing. She and her son used their tax returns to cover their bills until Wood was able to get back to work.“If it was going to happen, it couldn’t have happened at a better time,” Wood said.
But then it was time to do radiation treatments, and she could not afford to miss work again. She also worried if she took another five weeks off, she might never feel like going back to work, Wood said.
So, for five weeks, Wood had the same routine Monday through Friday: Go to work, get radiation, then go home and relax.
Wood’s son moved in and took care of the house while she went through the surgery and radiation. He did the grocery shopping, the cooking, the laundry and the cleaning, Wood said.
The help was a huge relief because the radiation treatments left her exhausted by the end of the day.
“It wore me out,” Wood said. “My son wouldn’t let me do anything, so that helped.”
Her co-workers knew what she was going through and encouraged her during the radiation treatments. Other hospital staff noticed too. One of Lindsay’s nurses praised Wood for having such a positive attitude while going through cancer treatments and working.
But her positive nature is something Wood already was known for. Throughout her years of dealing with tumors, Wood has always maintained a positive attitude, Lindsay said.
“Positive thinking is very important when it comes to treating cancer,” Lindsay said. “Negativity brings negative things.”
‘I was just a mess’
When Wood first felt a lump in her breast in 2000, she was working as a waitress. She feared the worst but kept a straight face for her son, who was a teenager at the time. Her four sisters and her son were with her in the doctor’s office when she had a needle biopsy to find out what the tumor was, Wood said.“Oh my gosh, it was rough,” she said. “I was working a lot of hours, but when I found it out, I was just a mess. I knew that it was really something bad.”
When she did a biopsy of the lump, Lindsay said there was a 99.9 percent chance that the lump would be cancerous and decided to remove the tumor. Lindsay did not know the tumor was a phyllodes tumor, which typically are not cancerous, until after the lumpectomy was done.
Before surgery, Lindsay told Wood that if the tumor was cancerous, it would be a lengthier surgery and she would feel extra bandages and stitches on the side of her body when she woke up. As soon as Wood woke up from the surgery, she moved her arm to her rib cage to feel for extra bandages.
To her surprise, there were none there.
“I remember it to this day, and I’m sure I’ll remember it until the rest of my life: I remember waking up after the surgery, and I remember Dr. Lindsay patted me on the arm (and said) ‘I’ve got some good news for you. I took the tumor out, I biopsied it, and there was no cancer. I got it all,’” Wood said.
After finding out the tumor was not cancerous, that was a huge boost to Wood’s positive attitude.
So when it happened again in 2009, Wood was expecting the tumor could come back, since she knew it often returns every 10 years.
Although it is unlikely that the tumor will come back again after having a mastectomy, she is prepared for it to return again. And if it does, she will remain positive, she said.
“If it’s something bad, I try to think positive,” Wood said.
Name: Pam Wood
Diagnosis: Phyllodes tumor
Treatment: Surgery, radiation
What cancer taught me: It’s a scary word, but it taught me to be strong and have faith. You can do this.
How cancer changed me: It changed me to be a stronger person and that angels truly do watch over you.
What I would tell someone just diagnosed with cancer: Be strong, have faith and stay positive about everything. Fight!