By Sherri Coner
A lot of mothers-in-law share life moments with their daughters-in-law such as trading recipes, working together to prepare holiday meals or attending kids’ activities.
But Pam Mayer Paulin of New Whiteland never dreamed that she and her daughter-in-law, Casey Paulin of Center Grove, would share the same cancer diagnosis.
And certainly not at the same time.
An orange-sized tumor
Nearly 18 months ago, a mammogram revealed “a tumor the size of an orange in my right breast,” Pam said.
She underwent surgery to remove her right breast and started chemotherapy treatments.
After a high school friend heard about the diagnosis, she asked Pam to get a second opinion at IU Health Simon Cancer Center.
Both of Pam’s sons, Chad Paulin of Trafalgar and Kevin Paulin of Center Grove joined their mom for the consultation with Dr. Bryan Schneider.
As he got up to leave the room, Dr. Schneider advised Pam to contact him as soon as possible if she wanted him to take over her case or if she would remain the patient of the other doctor.
“I looked at my boys and then I looked at Dr. Schneider and said, ‘Take your hand off the door. You’re my doctor,’” she said.
Spreading to her hip
A body scan then revealed a cancerous spot on Pam’s hip.
“I waited too long to get a mammogram,” she said.
The diagnosis immediately changed. She had stage 4 breast cancer on her hip.
She lives now with metastatic breast cancer.
“I will have to take chemo pills for the rest of my life,” Pam said.
Twelve years earlier, Casey was 37 years old.
She and Kevin felt their family was complete with their son, Cameran Paulin, 22, a student at Ball State University and daughter, Chloe Paulin, 16, a junior at Center Grove High School.
After Casey lost more than 70 pounds, she scheduled a surgical consult with a mommy makeover in mind, possibly with breast implants.
The required mammogram results before the implant surgery were a complete shock.
“I was barely doing self-breast exams,” she said. “And suddenly I had stage 2 breast cancer? It was crazy.”
Several serious and potentially life-threatening complications followed a bilateral mastectomy, such as Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) developing around one incision on her chest and blood clots.
“I had four surgeries back to back,” Casey said. “My ovaries were removed, and I also had blood clots in my lungs twice.”
Although skin expanders were placed under the skin left on her chest, the trauma she had already survived prevented Casey from moving forward with reconstruction.
“I had the expanders in my body for seven years,” she said. “I was too afraid to get reconstruction.”
When Casey eventually did decide to move forward with reconstruction, complications with the implants led her right back to surgical decisions.
“My daughter came to me and said, ‘We don’t care about reconstruction, just have the implants removed,” Casey said.
A return after 12 years in remission
Five days after Casey underwent surgery for the removal of both implants, “pathology labs showed that the cancer was back. I had 12 years in remission,” Casey said. “If I hadn’t listened to my daughter and really heard her, I have no idea what would have happened.”
After completing radiation treatments, Casey will take oral chemotherapy pills for 10 years.
“It’s been hard, between me having breast cancer twice and now Pam has it, too,” she said.
Occasionally, she and Casey see each other in the waiting rooms at Simon, Pam said.
This time when breast cancer is challenging his mom, Cameron is away at school.
But Chloe initially struggled a lot with her feelings.
“I didn’t want to face the emotions,” she said. “Once the chemo started, it really hit me.”
Instead of staying away from home to avoid reality, Chloe now spends a lot of quality time with her mom.
As scary and painful as breast cancer has been for all members of her family, Casey is still looking for and finding the positives.
“You are never the same after breast cancer,” she said. “So I’m waiting to see what I gain this time from this experience.”
Breast Cancer Facts
- One in eight women will hear this diagnosis in her life.
- In 2023, an estimated 297,790 women will be diagnosed with invasive breast cancer along with 2,800 men.
- Every two minutes, a woman is diagnosed with breast cancer.
- 64% of breast cancer cases are diagnosed before the cancer spreads to other areas of the body.
- Approximately 15% of women with breast cancer report other family members who have had it or died from it.
- If a mother, sister or daughter has had breast cancer, a woman is twice as likely to have it.
- About 9% of all new breast cancer cases are in women under age 45.
(National Breast Cancer Foundation)