Military Veteran Pam Carpino Offers Hope to Women with Triple Negative Breast Cancer
Pam Carpino knows how isolating a cancer diagnosis can be. She received the life-altering news a few months before the COVID-19 pandemic and lockdown, making it difficult to connect with support groups and other resources. And, although Pam’s cancer journey is not yet complete, she’s eager to help other women in the region.
“I want to be a resource for women in the military who are diagnosed with cancer,” said 38-year-old Pam, who served as an airman in the United States Air Force (USAF) for six years.
Pam’s cancer journey started when she felt a lump in her breast in December 2019. Her physician referred her to Virtua Health in Mount Holly, N.J., where test results revealed triple negative breast cancer. With the guidance of her Virtua oncology nurse navigator, Pam received a care plan for chemotherapy followed by surgery.
“Triple negative breast cancer is a type of cancer that isn’t fueled by estrogen or progesterone hormones, or by the HER2 protein, so it doesn’t respond to hormonal therapies,” explained Virtua Health breast surgeon Michelle Shen, MD, who treated Pam. “Chemotherapy is the only treatment for triple negative breast cancer, which—while aggressive—is also very responsive to intervention.”
Pam began chemotherapy in the early part of 2020.
“I had 14 rounds of chemotherapy,” Pam said. “But after the second round, the lump in my breast had disappeared.”
“Pam experienced a pathologic complete response after her chemo, which means there was no tumor left in her breast,” added Dr. Shen. “Because of this, her prognosis is very promising and optimistic.”
Pam’s subsequent double mastectomy surgery also provided reason for hope: Dr. Shen found no evidence of cancer at the microscopic level. Tissue expanders were placed in each breast so that breast reconstruction could be completed after she healed.
Genetic testing provided deeper insight into Pam’s cancer risk
Triple negative breast cancer is most common in women with the BRCA1 gene mutation, and Pam’s genetic tests revealed she had that exact gene mutation. Dr. Shen said that about 70 percent of breast cancer diagnosed in women with the BRCA1 mutation is triple negative.
This puts Pam at a higher risk for ovarian cancer, so she intends to have a partial hysterectomy in the near future. She also will encourage her five-year-old daughter, Lucy, to be tested for BRCA1 when she’s older.
“It’s all worth it if it helps my daughter stay healthy,” she said.
Connecting with others about her experience
Although she’s no longer a member of the Air Force, Pam lives on Joint Base Maguire-Dix-Lakehurst in Burlington County, N.J., with her daughter and husband, Thomas—a 19-year member of the USAF security forces.
Pam asked her military advisor to share her contact information with any women who might learn something from her cancer experience.
“I hope to help others facing a breast cancer diagnosis. The knowledge I gained could positively affect the lives of women who are on their own cancer journeys.”
Dr. Shen believes Pam would provide excellent support to others.
“To connect with another person who has gone through cancer treatment and done well gives others a sense of hope—a feeling that they can do it, too.”
“It’s been quite a year,” said Pam. “It was a humbling experience. The pandemic and my diagnosis put everything in perspective. I am thankful for the increased family time and do not take anything for granted anymore.”
Virtua Health is with you on your cancer journey
Whether you’re concerned about breast cancer or you’ve just been diagnosed, we’ll put you on the right path with the most advanced breast cancer treatments, world-class surgeons, and a dedicated nurse navigator to guide you every step of the way.
If you’ve received a highly suspicious mammogram or a positive breast cancer biopsy, we’ll schedule your consultation with a breast cancer doctor within two business days.
Updated November 18, 2020