Pamela Cromwell regards herself as a fighter, not a cancer survivor.
Cromwell was 29 when she was diagnosed with breast cancer and told that she only had six months to live.
Five years later, she is battling Stage 4 metastatic breast cancer, a stage of cancer where the disease has spread.
Cromwell first became aware that something was wrong when she felt a lump in her left breast while showering. When she first went in for testing, medical professionals thought she had a cyst. Six months would go by before she was diagnosed with an aggressive form of breast cancer that was moving rapidly.
After undergoing chemotherapy, radiation and surgery, she thought she was in remission, but she was not. The cancer returned to her right breast.
Two years ago, she decided to turn to Cancer Treatment Centers of America (CTCA) in Philadelphia for her oncology care.
“A lot of people think I’m in remission which I’m not,” said Cromwell, who undergoes hormonal treatments once a month at CTCA.
She has not let cancer deter her from continuing to engage in one of her favorite pastimes — kickboxing. She still commutes from Plainsville, N.J. to New York for her full-time job as a financial analyst. She doesn’t believe in putting blocks on herself.
“Because of a combination of prayer, great people in my life and my determination to be stubborn, I’m in a very good state in my life. It’s just because I finally learned my lesson, that I had to take my life back,” said Cromwell, who is 34.
“I don’t walk around thinking this could be my last year in life. I just do what I have to do.”
She wants others to understand that the face of breast cancer goes beyond the typical portrayal of 45- or 50-year-old women.
“I think that people feel more comfortable with the idea that you have cancer, so that means you should be in bed, bald and not able to move, and the fact that I don’t look like a typical cancer patient means they want to say I’m in remission and I’m not,” said Cromwell.
She shares her story at a time when African-American women are more likely than white women to be diagnosed with breast cancer before age 45 and are also more likely to have more aggressive types of breast cancer.
“I just feel like people need to understand that cancer is turning into a chronic disease and people are dealing with it long-term. I feel like the world is catering to the survivor. All due respect, I don’t consider myself a survivor, I am a fighter and that’s how I like to be classified,” Cromwell said.
As a younger person coping with cancer, the newly released movie titled “50/50” resonates with her, she said. The film stars Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Seth Rogen, who portray best friends whose lives are changed by a cancer diagnosis at the age of 27, and sheds some light on the physical and emotional facets of living with cancer.
“The movie was phenomenal because it was real. It was not pretty. The movie was on target,” said Cromwell, who appreciated the film’s honesty.
When Cromwell first came to CTCA, Dr. Shayma Kamzi, a medical oncologist and hematologist, had to inform her that she had metastatic disease. Prior to her first visit to CTCA, she underwent a CT scan that revealed the cancer had spread from her breast to the bones.
“Of course she was shocked, and this came as a surprise, but she rose above it and really has fought very hard,” Kazmi said.
“She has a quality of life where she’s able to work full time and really be active and feel good and normal. She’s done really, really well. Obviously lengthening someone’s life is one thing, but adding quality to that life is also very important,” said Kazmi.
Since she joined the CTCA staff two and half years ago, Kazmi has treated a number of patients who are in their 30s and 40s for various forms of cancer.
“We do see a higher percentage of these very aggressive tumors and young patients tend to have a more aggressive disease and we don’t quite know why, and that’s true all across the board,” she said.
“I see a lot of younger women with breast cancer, and I think there are a lot of issues that people don’t focus on,” she said, noting that there are concerns for younger women about sexuality and fertility.