Breast Cancer Survivor Finds the ‘Can’ in Cancer

"What finding the 'can' in cancer means to me is there's something good even around all of the terrible things."

Pam Matthews
Pam Matthews - Stories of Hope

More than 10 years ago while Pam Matthews was going through breast cancer treatment, she adopted a personal mantra, one she still embraces today.

“What finding the ‘can’ in cancer means to me is there’s something good even around all of the terrible things,” said Matthews. “Everything is happening for a reason. We may not understand it now, but we will.”

The American Cancer Society originally told Matthews’ breast cancer story in the Stories of Hope section of our website in 2005. At the time of her diagnosis, Matthews’ husband and 2 sons were dealing with their own health problems. And since then, the family has faced additional challenges including job losses. Today, Matthews and her husband are employed, her husband and sons (now ages 21 and 16) are doing well, and her breast cancer has not come back. Matthews says the tough times have made her the person she is today.

“When you’ve gone through lots of bad things you get really good at dealing with them,” said Matthews. “The ‘can’ in cancer also represents our philosophy as a family. We ask not, ‘What do we do?’ but ‘What are we going to do right now?’ It forces you to do something instead of letting something happen to you. It means living, taking jobs I wouldn’t have had the guts to do previously, experiencing things, being fierce, and taking the time to enjoy the little things.”

As she has for years, Matthews continues to write to family and friends about her experiences, and still receives return messages of support, encouragement, and appreciation. But while she once wrote journals and shared her entries through email, she now mostly relies on social media to tell her stories and share her insights. She considers herself a role model for other survivors, demonstrating that cancer is not the end.

Matthews’ message

In her mission to help others deal with the overwhelming experiences of cancer diagnosis, treatment, and survival, Matthews blends optimism with practical advice. She says:

  • Talk to your doctors. Matthews says it’s important to have a good relationship with your health care providers. Though she’s passed her 10-year anniversary as a cancer survivor, she still works hard to maintain her relationship with her oncologist while keeping her primary care doctor in the loop.
  • Stay healthy. While it’s important for everyone to stay healthy, Matthews says it’s especially important for survivors. She is currently trying to watch what she eats, exercise, lose weight, reduce stress, and get more sleep.
  • Ask for help. Matthews says this is something she had to learn. “Knowing how and when to punt, when to say, ‘uncle,’ and when to say, ‘I need a minute’ are all things you get better at as time goes on,” said Matthews.
  • Use your support system. Matthews says her family and friends got her through her diagnosis and treatment, but she realizes not everyone has that. She encourages survivors to find out who their local social workers are and what they do, and what other resources are available in their neighborhood, house of worship, and community.
  • Seek out credible sources of information like the American Cancer Society. Matthews checks the American Cancer Society website once a month for the latest news and information about cancer. “I’m a huge fan of the American Cancer Society,” said Matthews. “I’m always trying to tell people how much great information is available and how many great people are manning the phones.”
  • Deal in the present. Balancing the challenges of a complicated medical condition like cancer on top of all the other demands of work and family life can become overwhelming. Matthews says she tries to keep things in perspective and take things as they come. “I deal in the present,” she said, “and try to be as successful as possible to the best of my knowledge.”

The American Cancer Society medical and editorial content team

Our team is made up of doctors and oncology certified nurses with deep knowledge of cancer care as well as journalists, editors, and translators with extensive experience in medical writing.

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