Three months shy of her 50th birthday, Pam Bernhardson received news no one wants to hear: You have colon cancer.
“We were planning to go on vacation,” shares her husband, Duane. The proud parents were preparing for a trip to Anchorage, Alaska, to see their son, Tanner, play in the USA hockey national tournament.
“She went into the office to get some stuff done before leaving and thought she needed to go to the ER due to sudden back pain. She had a CT scan; we thought it could be a kidney stone. Soon, we heard she had cancer, and surgery was recommended right away.”
While Pam immediately went into surgery to have the tumor and a foot of her colon removed, Dr. Debeltz, a friend and neighbor of the Bernhardsons, joined Duane in the waiting room during the procedure. After surgery, she started what would be a three-year journey battling colon cancer.
Team Pam: No One Fights Alone
Over the next three years, Pam’s family and friends participated in Run for Your Buns, a 5K/10K race in Grand Forks to raise awareness about colonoscopy and colon cancer prevention. While Pam was unable to participate in the race, she was always there as “Team Pam’s” biggest cheerleader. The race in early June conveniently happens to fall around Pam’s birthday on June 10.
“The timing was perfect,” shares Duane. “After the race in 2017, we celebrated her 51st birthday at our home surrounded by the love and support of Team Pam.”
The race became a special event for their friends and family as they enjoyed the race and celebrating Pam’s birthday, something she had never enjoyed before. Sadly, this past year was Pam’s last earthly birthday. Pam passed in November 2018 from colon cancer.
“She did what she could to try and beat it, including 50 chemotherapy treatments,” shares Duane. “Throughout the journey, she never quit living.”
In 2018, the American Cancer Society lowered its recommendation for first colonoscopy screening for people of average risk to begin at age 45. This is due to higher rates of colorectal cancer in younger adults.
“At the time Pam was diagnosed, she had not missed a recommended screening,” shared Duane. Other than the sudden, severe back pain, the tumor in Pam’s abdomen created no symptoms. “If she would have been screened at age 45, we might have caught it sooner, and she could still be here today. I don’t want this to happen to anyone else.”
Duane continues, “Pam was never afraid of what she needed to do. Don’t be afraid of a colonoscopy. It’s something that’s meant to help you, and from our experience, there really is no such thing as having a crappy procedure at Altru. We can’t say enough about the Cancer Center and oncology staff. That’s why they were honorary pallbearers at Pam’s service.”
This summer, after the Run for Your Buns race on June 8, members of Team Pam will continue the tradition in honor of a wife, mom, daughter and friend gone too soon. On what would have been the weekend of her 53rd birthday, Team Pam will race to raise funds for colon cancer prevention. Duane smiles, “For us, it’s a time to celebrate Pam.”
If you are interested in buying a t-shirt or wristband in support of Team Pam and the fight against colon cancer, learn more at team-pam.webnode.com.