When Pamela Quinn was just 17 years old, she faced enormous life and family challenges.. Not only was she navigating high school and being a teenager, huge hurdles in their own right, she was also faced with something even more difficult. Pamela’s mother, Carol, was diagnosed with breast cancer.
Years before, Pamela had struggled with an eating disorder. Her mom had been by her side through doctors appointments, hospital stays, sleepless nights and the recovery process. Now, it was Pamela’s turn to take care of her mom.
Although Carol went into remission after her first diagnosis, she was diagnosed with stage four advanced recurrent metastatic breast cancer just four years later. Pamela was 21 when her family got the news. “From that moment, I vowed to make my mother’s cancer all about HER.” At that moment, Pamela committed to being her mom’s full-time caregiver.
“This is what you do, you take care of your parents,” she says, reflecting on the time after her mom’s recurrence. “My time to do that came a little earlier than anyone would have wanted but I am so grateful to have shared that time with her.”
At Rush University Hospital in Chicago, Pamela was by her mom’s side through 27 different kinds of chemotherapy, radiation and various other treatments under the guidance of a phenomenal team of doctors and nurses. During this time, Pamela was not only caring for her mother, but caring for the rest of her family as well. Following Carol’s diagnosis, the family dynamic had shifted, leaving Pamela to navigate adulthood, care for her mom and pull the family together.
Being a caregiver is draining for anyone, but Pamela looks back on that time in her early 20’s spent caring for her mom as a gift. Throughout her entire life, Carol had always looked for silver linings. Pamela was hers.
“My mom always referenced the children’s book, Love You Forever,” remembers Pamela. “I’ll love you forever, I’ll like you for always, as long as I’m living my baby you’ll be. That has always stuck with me.”
Carol passed away in an Orlando, Florida-area hospice home in March 2011. Her last wish was to go to Disney World, a place where the family had so enjoyed visiting when Pamela was a child. Carol lived to make others happy, something that Pamela carries with her today as a Mentor Angel for Imerman Angels.
Pamela became a Mentor Angel one year after her mom passed. At the time, she says she was “struggling with struggling,” and discovered that grief “doesn’t go away, it just changes.” Being part of Imerman Angels helps Pamela feel like her mother is still part of her life; she is using her memory for good.
“I wish I would have known about Imerman Angels before everything happened,” said Pamela. “It really is the Holy Grail.”
Since becoming a Mentor Angel in 2012, Pamela has been matched with five Mentees. She loves sharing stories of her mom, giving others hope and guiding them in their journeys.
“I always ask my Mentees, ‘What are you doing for yourself this week?’ because I know that what they’re going through is tough,” says Pamela. “I admire my Mentees so much for the way they care for their moms and take over the family dynamic. I encourage them to take time to take care of themselves, too.”
Cancer impacts not only the fighter, but everyone in their world. Caregivers like Pamela put their lives on hold to provide comfort and support. Imerman Angels strives to ensure that no one faces cancer alone, including those who are caring for their loved ones.