When you meet Pam Harmon, it is very likely that if you are a woman she’ll ask if you’ve had your annual mammogram.
At age 71, Harmon has never missed her annual mammogram— not once in 31 years. In fact, on January 23, 2018, she went to Sarah Bush Lincoln for her annual exam and, as a result, Radiologist Matt Jones, MD, wanted to perform a stereotactic biopsy because of something he detected on the mammogram. “I wasn’t alarmed because I’ve had suspicious areas before and previous biopsies. They turned out to be cysts,” she said.
But on February 6, Harmon learned that she had breast cancer, and just a month later she had a lumpectomy.
“Because of my age and the size of the tumor— just 1 mm by 1.9 mm (so the size of the end of a paperclip)— I didn’t need follow-up care. The type of cancer I had was hormone-driven and since I was through menopause, I didn’t need chemotherapy,” she explained. Harmon continue to take a medication that blocks hormones, however. “For once, it helped me to be old,” she joked.
“My cancer was caught very early and so that’s why I ask women if they’ve had a mammogram. I was very lucky that they caught it right then,” Harmon explained.
A no-nonsense, matter-of-fact woman, Harmon believes in taking care of things without delay. “If you feel like something is wrong, then get it taken care of right away. There’s no point in letting it go,” Harmon said.
Fifteen years ago, Harmon’s husband, Joe, passed away rather quickly of cancer, so a friend of nearly 40 years accompanied Harmon to her biopsy. The friend attended the biopsy knowing that she had her own breast lump that she had put off having assessed by mammogram. Harmon intervened. During her biopsy, she told the clinicians about her friend and asked if they could arrange for her to have a mammogram that day. The staff readily agreed.
“I think my cancer happened so she would get checked,” Harmon said, noting that her friend has since undergone a lumpectomy and chemotherapy. “You gain a new value for life when something happens, like Joe dying unexpectedly or this cancer diagnosis.” Harmon is grateful to the people in her immediate and extended family who have supported her. “It means a great deal to me,” she said.
The Kansas, IL native has a lot of living left to do, including enjoying her adult children— Chad, Kelly and Sarah— and her 11 grandchildren. She continues to work at Kirchner’s Lumber in Charleston, where she has worked for 44 years receiving construction materials and selling kitchen and bath materials. She considers her co-workers members of her extended family.
The new Sarah Bush Lincoln Women’s Imaging Center opens October 1 and features a comfortable area for woman to receive 3-D mammography and DEXA bone density scans. Soon, the center will be equipped with curved breast paddles for added comfort during mammograms. The new center is located next to the Gift Shop near Entrance A of Sarah Bush Lincoln Health Center. Women do not need referrals to schedule mammograms. Please call 217 258-2588 to schedule.