Four years ago, Director of People Services Consulting Pam Benner received life-changing news. In early October 2014, she visited her doctor for annual checkup, as part of Nelnet’s health screening program. After a standard mammogram, her doctor suggested a 3D mammogram. It showed that she had invasive lobular carcinoma.
“It was devastating to hear someone say that I had cancer. The most challenging times were right in the beginning when I had more questions than answers. Telling my kids and family members was the hardest thing I’ve had to do in my life. But I was very fortunate. Thanks to early detection, my tumor was found at a very early and treatable stage,” Pam said.
Pam was also fortunate to have a strong support system, both at home and at work.
“My husband, Kirk, happens to be the best caregiver in the world, and was always by my side. My sons, parents, siblings, and co-workers really kept my spirits up, some in ways they don’t even know,” she said.
Pam was worried about missing work while in treatment. She had only worked at Nelnet for under a year, but her boss, Kelly McKeever, assured her that she could take as much time as she needed. In the end, she only missed one full day of work, the day of her lumpectomy surgery on Oct. 31, 2014.
Pam’s Nelnet coworkers helped out in other ways, as well. Some kept her company during her daily radiation treatments, and they always went out for a celebratory martini afterward. On her last day of treatment, they did something extra special.
“When I came into the office that day, everyone came out of their offices or stood up in their cubicles. Every single person was dressed in pink. Without saying a word, they blew me away. Now, we celebrate each year with a commemorative team picture in pink,” Pam remembered.
Next year will be the five-year anniversary of her final radiation treatment. At that time, she will be officially out of remission and cancer-free.
After her experience, Pam wanted to help others who have been given similar diagnoses. By sharing her story, she hopes to give other cancer patients and survivors guidance.
“The number one thing I can advise others in my situation is to build a support group that meets your needs. My family and friends all stepped forward to offer love and support in so many ways. When people offer to help, let them,” she said.
“And always,” she added, “keep laughing. It really is the best medicine.”
Breast Cancer Awareness Month remains an important time of year for Pam. In addition to bringing attention to cancer research and serving as a reminder for all people to pay attention to their health, the month also provides support for survivors. Pam explained, “Breast Cancer Awareness Month is a way for people who are going through cancer treatment to know that they are not alone. It’s also a time for everyone to recognize survivors and remember those we have lost.”