December Supporter of the Month: Pam Whitehead

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Our “Supporter of the Month” initiative was designed to recognize our donors, volunteers, and fundraisers and share their stories with our staff, interns, clients, and visitors. Pam is a cancer survivor and over the past 5 years, has served as a LIVESTRONG Leader. She works as an architect at her own firm and created her own foundation, Triumph Cancer Foundation.

LS: How did you become involved with LIVESTRONG?

Pam: I was diagnosed with uterine cancer in 2000. I was 36, and at that time the cancer landscape was very different. I didn’t know anyone my age who had cancer, or even anyone with uterine cancer. There was very little cancer support information available on the internet and even less about my type of cancer. I basically went through my cancer experience by myself, with my husband and family as support. I was fortunate in that my cancer was caught early. I had a radical hysterectomy and the pathology reports indicated no further spread, so I was not required to have chemo or radiation. Just before my diagnosis, my mom completed radiation treatment for breast cancer.

pam whitehead

I knew I wanted to give back on behalf of both myself and my mom and I was searching for an organization that wasn’t necessarily “cancer type” specific. When I came home from the hospital, I was given Lance’s book by my brother and read about the LIVESTRONG Foundation and its focus on survivorship. That resonated with me and I decided to get involved.

Initially I was focused on fundraising but soon also turned to being an advocate. The fundraising and advocacy work seemed to go hand in hand for me. For the past 5 years, I have also served as a LIVESTRONG Leader in my own community in Sacramento, California.

LS: What is your occupation?

Pam: I am an architect. I run my own firm, Sage Architecture, with my husband Paul Almond, who is also an architect. My cancer diagnosis was a wake-up call. Within 6 months of my diagnosis we quit our jobs and opened our own firm. Part of what we wanted to do at our firm was to set up a philanthropic focus, donating a portion of our profits to organizations that resonated with our core values. Each year, we share with our clients a list of the nonprofits that we have supported. Beyond getting involved with LIVESTRONG, we decided to go one step further and created our own foundation, Triumph Cancer Foundation. (www.triumphfound.org)

LS: What do you like to do in your free time?

Pam: Virtually all of my free time is devoted to the cancer community. In 2004, I was recognized by LIVESTRONG for my advocacy work with the annual Peloton Project Triumph Award. I received the award at the Ride for the Roses event in Austin. The award came with a $5,000 check from LIVESTRONG which I was told I could use to start a new survivorship program in my community or fund an existing one. I decided to create something new and I wanted it to be fitness focused, so in 2005 I launched Triumph Fitness, a cancer recovery fitness program specifically designed to help adult cancer survivors regain their strength and stamina after treatment. We now offer Triumph Fitness in multiple locations in the metro area, and receive referrals from all 4 cancer centers in the region.

triumph summit

LS: Can you tell us a bit about your family?

Pam: Because of my uterine cancer and the need to have a radical hysterectomy at age 36, I was not able to have children. This is part of the reason why Paul and I decided to devote a portion of our time to philanthropy. Besides my mom’s diagnosis and mine, cancer has also hit others in my family. My stepfather lost a battle with leukemia in 1989. My father, stepmother, cousin, and stepbrother were all diagnosed within a 5 years span of my own diagnosis. All experienced different types of cancer and treatments. Some have had recurrences and second cancers. This drove my determination to not only engage in the cancer community, but step it up to a higher level with the creation of Triumph Cancer Foundation.

LS: Do you give or volunteer your time in honor of anyone in particular?

Pam: Over the years, I have had the opportunity to participate in lots of fundraising events related to cancer. I’ve ridden in multiple LIVESTRONG Challenge events in Austin, San Jose & Davis, California, as well as participating in the annual Ride for the Roses 5Ks and rides. Locally, with Team Triumph, I have run in 5Ks, 10Ks and am currently training for my first Half Marathon. This past summer, I trained with Team Triumph for our annual Triumph to the Summit event where we climbed Mount Tallac in the Sierra Tahoe Basin. For all of my rides and hikes, I wear individual ribbons with the names of those I honor. My backpack this past September was covered in yellow ribbons. I find that there are quiet moments during these experiences where I reflect on the ribbons, thinking about all the survivors, some who may be in the midst of their fight, and those who have run out of time.

My work for Triumph Fitness is dedicated to two very special people. The first is Lori Tilton, a fellow member of Cyclists Combating Cancer, who succumbed to breast cancer in 2004. The second person is Jim Owens, a dear friend who was also a member of Cyclists Combating Cancer. He fought one of the most courageous battles with cancer I have ever seen, surviving for over 10 years after being diagnosed with brain cancer. I have made it a mission of mine to insure that the spirit of both Lori and Jim live on through Triumph. I like to think of it as part of their legacy. I hope they are proud.

LS: In your opinion, what is the most important aspect of LIVESTRONG’s work?

Pam: The most important aspect of LIVESTRONG’s work is the focus on survivorship and navigation services. There is no other cancer organization with this focus – assisting survivors throughout their cancer journeys whether it be through their Guide Book, fertility preservation services, or other navigation services.

LS/Pam: Finish this sentence: To me, LIVESTRONG means…taking control of your cancer rather than cancer taking control of you.

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