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10-year survivor speaks out about breast cancer

Breast cancer survivor Pam Loudon sits beside her husband of 40 years Mark and their French bulldog, Chopper. Chopper passed away one year ago after providing comfort to Loudon in 2010 along with her family and friends.
Breast cancer survivor Pam Loudon sits beside her husband of 40 years Mark and their French bulldog, Chopper. Chopper passed away one year ago after providing comfort to Loudon in 2010 along with her family and friends.

Pam Loudon of Creston is cancer free but she wasn’t always. In July of 2010, Loudon began a battle with the disease that would last several months and include two surgeries and 33 weeks of radiation.

After reading her annual mammogram, staff at Greater Regional Health were concerned by what they found, Loudon said.

“They told me that it was a suspicious spot and then I went to Des Moines to get the biopsy,” she said.

When the specialist in Des Moines called her that summer, the Loudon’s worst was confirmed: She had stage 1 breast cancer.

“I just handed the phone to my husband. I was like, ‘You take it, I can’t answer anything right now.’ It was kind of a shock,” she said.

Loudon was not the first in her family to be afflicted by cancer. Her mother, June Sprague, and her aunt, Betty Chubick, both went through the trial, as well. But Loudon said because of the timing of their cancer and her own, that meant none of them went through it alone.

“My aunt had lung cancer and brain cancer. ... She was doing chemo when I was doing radiation, so I would leave radiation and go sit with her through chemo,” she said.

When the cancer spread to her brain, Chubick passed away, Loudon said. And in 2015, Sprague lost her battle to cancer after almost a decade of being cancer free, due to a reoccurrence.

“My mom had a different kind than I did, and she was an eight-year survivor,” she said. “Breast cancer took her. ... So, I kind of went through it with her some.”

The first step of Loudon’s treatment was to remove as much of the cancer as possible through surgery in Des Moines. When the surgeon was unsure, a second surgery was scheduled and performed, Loudon said.

“Because he didn’t think he got it all the first time. So, he had to go back in and do it again, and took some lymph nodes to make sure it wasn’t there, too, which (tested) negative,” she said.

Loudon said the process was quick and the cancer center was able to get her in for both surgeries in just a matter of a couple of weeks. The entire process from diagnosis to her final surgery was complete in less than a month.

“They didn’t want it to get any bigger than what it was,” she said.

While Loudon was in and out for surgery, what was to follow was more than seven months of weekly radiation at Greater Regional Health. This led to fatigue and pain, Loudon said.

“The first few were nothing. They kind of made you tired ... but at the end, it does burn,” she said.

According to mayoclinic.org, radiation therapy uses external beams of intense energy to kill cancer cells through an machine that pin-points a precise point on your body, releasing the beams only there. As with Loudon’s case, post-surgery radiation is specifically used to stop the growth of any remaining cancer cells. Following radiation, Loudon had to take post-cancer medication for five years.

Her radiation oncologist, Dr. Richard Deming — whom she coined “Dr. Hugs” — helped her through the process tremendously, Loudon said.

“Because he always gives me a hug when I’m done. He is an awesome doctor. ... And he’s still seeing me, just because I trust him,” she said.

The cancer center in Des Moines also provided Loudon with a book telling Susan G. Komen’s story. Komen was diagnosed with breast cancer at 33 and lost her three-year battle in 1980, and has the largest and best-funded breast cancer organization in the country named after her. She is described on their website, komenoc.org, as being “a rare light in this world.” The book on Komen that Loudon received helped her understand what was happening to her at the time, she said.

“It tells you what you will go through and emotions and stuff like, ‘Why me?’” Loudon said.

Through the process Loudon said she leaned on her family, her faith and her French bulldog, Chopper.

“When Mark was working and it was just me and (Chopper), if I had a sad moment, he was right there. ... He was with me through radiation, he knew whether I was sad or upset and he would lick my tears,” Loudon said.

Chopper passed away one year ago this month at the age of almost 14.

“I don’t think I could ever find one like that again. That’s why there’s not another one in my house,” Loudon said.

In addition to her breast cancer ribbon tattoo with the word “survivor” on her left wrist, Loudon sports a portrait of Chopper on her arm above it.

“So he can always be with me,” she said.

Now, Loudon can say with thankfulness that she is a breast cancer survivor. With 10 years of being cancer free behind her, she has learned things that she would like to impart to other women. Loudon stressed the importance of annual mammograms, because unlike some breast cancers, hers was located in a place that did not present any signs or symptoms. Without her mammogram, which showed doctors the suspicious spot, she probably wouldn’t be here, Loudon said.

“It was so deep, you couldn’t feel a lump or nothing. ... Definitely get a mammogram. It saves lives,” she said.

And to the families of those who suffer alongside a loved one or are diagnosed with cancer themselves, Loudon has a word of encouragement stating the importance of family support, endurance and faith.

“If you get it, try to fight it. ... Just believe, and have family and friends surrounding you. You gotta believe in the Man above,” she said.

Pam Loudon’s family includes her husband of almost 40 years, Mark, her brother Terry, her two nieces, her sons Travis and Chris, and her grandchildren Rider, 12, Ava, 9, and Tay, 9.

“I am cancer free,” Loudon said.

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