On April 2nd 2015, New South Wales woman, Pamela Schramm, then a 40 year old mother to James, Harry and Ivy (then 6, 4 and 8 months respectively) was told that she had Breast Cancer. Whilst undergoing gruelling treatment, Pamela saw a real need for positive, uplifting and relatable stories for children to read in order to teach them more about the cancer process. Taking on this mission herself, Pamela is now the proud Author of ‘My Strong Mummy‘ (donating proceeds from each sale of her book to Breast Cancer Network Australia) and plans on more books in the near future.
We were thrilled to have had an opportunity to speak with Pamela. She is a true hero, no doubt about that!
Leigh: On April 2nd, 2015 you were told that you had Breast Cancer. Can you tell us about your Cancer journey?
Pamela Schramm: Having cancer does make you try to be better at everything you do and enjoy every moment!! It changes you forever, but it can be a positive change!
I don’t consider myself an author or a public speaker. I’m just a mum who had cancer, wrote a poem for my children and now have a passion to not only raise money for breast cancer but to help other mums explain their cancer diagnosis to their young children.
I hope sharing my cancer journey with you will help someone, after all, 1 in 8 women will be diagnosed with breast cancer in Australia, every 19 seconds somewhere someone in the world is diagnosed with breast cancer and in the next 24 hours, 43 Australians will hear four terrifying words “You have breast cancer”
Where does MY cancer journey really start? One doctor suggested that it could even be if my mother was exposed to chemicals while she was pregnant with me. And we did grow up on a farm. Was it binge drinking in my 20’s? Becoming a mother and putting on weight? Using round up and other chemicals in my garden and on our farm? Was it something I did or didn’t do? Or is it simply in my genes? Or does it just begin on the day I was told “you have a malignant Breast Cancer“.
My type of breast cancer is particularly rare; it’s called Metaplastic BC. That’s not to be confused with Metastatic BC. Mine has NOT spread. There are only about 20 women in Australia with Metaplastic BC, that’s less than 1% diagnosed. And there is very little known about it. A simple explanation is “Meta” means “changing” and “plastic” means form. The defining characteristic of MpBC is that the tumour is no longer completely identifiably ‘breast’ tissue, it can look like muscle or bone. It is breast cancer but it also has other cell types. Mine (and most MpBC) grows very rapidly. Suddenly appearing over night.
I was breast feeding my baby girl, Ivy, at the time and she was just 8 months old. I had previously had a melanoma so when this odd large lump appeared I luckily didn’t leave it too long before going to the doctor. All this began the day before Easter last year, the 1st April 2015. Less than two weeks later I had a lumpectomy, losing about ½ my breast with a tumour approximately 4cm x 3cms.
Like most people I asked “Why me“. I wanted an answer and a reason. I have however learnt to let those thoughts go. We may never have the answer. Although I have made an appointment to start the process of getting my BRCA gene tested. We have a family history of cancer but no breast cancer in my immediate family. It wasn’t until I was talking to someone recently that I realised that I had finally moved on. She asked me two questions: 1) What are the positives of your cancer diagnosis, and 2) what are the negatives?
It took me by surprise that I happily rattled of 1/2 a dozen or more positives – but had to think about the negatives. I really want to focus on the positives because any women can imagine the negatives, especially with young children. I think I am now at a point where I can look past the scars, the hair loss and the trauma of 2015 and move on.
LV: Your book ‘My Strong Mummy’ was created for children, hoping to help them understand the challenges faced when their mother has cancer. Why was it so important for you to create this book?
PS: The first thing we were introduced to on this cancer journey is the amazing world of doctors and nurses. In my book I really wanted to have a repeated line “Mummy’s doctors are the best“, for a few reasons. Firstly there are just so many appointments and secondly to help the children understand why you are going to the doctor all the time. It’s very hard to explain why you are off to yet another doctor’s appointment…
In that first week of diagnosis my mind was racing and I couldn’t sleep. My doctor said “Don’t be ‘Dr Google’, it makes things worse“. So I didn’t. Instead Peter, my husband and I would talk into the night or I would wake the poor bugger to discuss something.
One night I woke him up just to say “hey – you know, I’m not going to be one of those sad cancer patients, I’m going to do something…“
I searched for just the right children’s book about cancer and chemo for my children and just couldn’t find anything. I felt over protective, but nothing seemed right for my babies. Lying on the couch after my first round of chemo, feeling like I had a hangover (which I have had my fair share of), I wrote “See your bellybutton, that is our connection, where I made you to perfection.”
And then the rest just came to me each day as the kids did or said something. I enjoyed writing and it took my mind of everything else. The steroids and the stress caused me to wake in the middle of the night and I would sit in the silence of the kitchen at 2am writing and planning what the illustrations should look like. I just felt that a happy, positive, loving book was missing from the market. They were all so sad and negative. Not something I could read to my sensitive 7 and 5 year old…
LV: Your friends suggested ‘crowd funding’ to make this dream a reality! Tell us more about that..
PS: I owe so much to my friends who encouraged me to publish my book. I really thought it would never go past my children’s memory boxes. The ‘go fund me’ account, the raffle, sausage sizzle, and all the people that ran in the Gold Coast Marathon last year raised just over $12,000. I’m still overwhelmed by this local support from Goondiwindi. I also had a lot of family and friends from all over Australia and my brothers friends from England making donations. I don’t want to profit from the books published out of this raised money so all proceeds from the first 2000 books will go to Breast Cancer Network Australia. I also had enough money left over, after printing, to donate $1000 to the Mummy’s Wish foundation and have also made a cash donation of just over $4700 to Breast Cancer Network Australia. I have also donated some of these books to schools, libraries and hospitals. I have sold almost $1000 worth of books again and will make another donation to Breast Cancer Network Australia soon.
LV: Well done! You should be REALLY proud of yourself. The book is a real family affair as your own mother did the illustrations throughout it. They are beautiful! Is your mum a trained illustrator?
PS: I had to give mum a deadline for the illustrations as she was just taking too long for my liking! She’s never done any professional art work and is self-taught, but we all have her paintings hanging in our homes. I know she shed a few tears and stressed over these illustrations as she didn’t think she was good enough. I think she did an amazing job and loved working with her on it. It gave us a distraction we probably both needed.
LV: Where can your book be purchased?
PS: You can visit www.mystrongmummy.com (my brother is working on the website and has set up paypal for easy purchase options) or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and I can send the account details and will happily post the book out. The book is $15.00AUD and postage within Australia for one book is $3.00AUD.
LV: What do you hope is your next grand adventure?
PS: I am going to print of a couple of the illustrations from the book, the one I call ‘Our connection‘ and have them for sale on my website eventually. I’ve had quite a lot of interest in this one. And also some cards for mums to right a message to their children.
I do have another book in mind but after such a busy time lately I really want to focus on our children, farm and our life. Getting myself fit and healthy and taking short relaxing holidays… Farmers never get long holidays! I love my garden and want to get it back into shape as well.
But along with all that I have a few little fund raising events planned, where I hope to sell books and raise money and awareness for breast cancer especially in women under 40. Self checks are so important and also regular checks with your GP! Don’t wait till your 40 or 50. It might be too late!