Pam Ehlert: strength in the face of cancer

March 25, 2024

Pam Ehlert won’t have any trouble filling her days when she retires this spring. After a 44-year nursing career, Pam is excited to turn her full attention to personal pursuits, including precious time with her sons and new grandchild, creative programs at Wellspring, and countless hours gliding across healing waters as part of the Sistership Dragon Boat team.

“Water is my happy place and joining this team is like a dream come true. I just can’t wait to go out and have some fun,” Pam said, adding, “I know it will be hard work, but we get to be silly too.”

When Pam was first diagnosed with breast cancer 22 years ago at age 42, she made a swift decision to have a mastectomy even though the tumour was caught early.

“It’s not what everyone would choose, but I wasn’t taking any chances. I wanted to live for my boys,” she said, reflecting back with no regrets.

Pam’s sons were 10 and 13 when they received the frightening news that their mom had cancer. As heartbreaking and stressful as it was, Pam is glad the family opted for an open approach; sharing information, fielding questions, and tuning into her kids’ emotions.

“After I had my mastectomy, my older son Stephen wanted to know what it was like, so I asked if he would like to see the scar. When he said yes, I realized he wouldn’t be able to appreciate what was missing from that space having not seen a woman’s chest, so I put on a button up shirt and showed him one side then the other. He just looked at me with tears in his eyes and he said, “Oh Mom…”,” Pam shared.

Post surgery, Pam carried on with life and work, moving from operating room nurse to a role in public health. Then, 11 years after a divorce, at age 62, she was shocked to learn she had cancer in her other breast.

“I was crushed. I thought – are you kidding me? We’ve just come through the pandemic where I was working the frontlines. I’m over 60 and I have no one to come home to. And now this?” she said.

Choosing once again to have her breast removed, Pam was slightly more nervous this time, since during her first mastectomy there was unexpected and dangerous hemorrhaging which exposed an undetected blood disorder. However, for her second mastectomy, with extra precautions in place, and her thirty-some year-old son (now an operating nurse) on hand for the recovery, she came through the surgery and has since regained her health.

“I’ve had some tough days for sure, but I have really great friends who have helped me a lot, and my boys are everything to me. They were great the first time I had cancer, and they were great the second time too,” she said.

And then there was Wellspring

Wellspring was not around when Pam was first diagnosed in 2001, but she did tap into it and take a few programs in 2013 when there was some upheaval in her life and her cancer grief resurfaced.

Then in 2022, when cancer came around for a second time, Pam found her way back to Wellspring and she made a beeline for the art programs.

“Art is pure magic. I go into the classroom and I forget that the rest of my life exists. I forget that I’ve had cancer; that I have a 90-year-old mother who needs my care; that I sometimes struggle with anxiety and depression. I come out of art classes feeling renewed, refreshed, and ready to face the world again,” she said.

Pam signed up for Wellspring’s Felt Images program, where she even took a day off work to complete the class and put the finishing touches on her adorable gnome character. She has sampled several other art programs including Watercolour and Drawing Studio. But one of Pam’s favourite discoveries at Wellspring is a program called Zentangle.

“Zentangle is just so relaxing and fun! I enjoy using the technique to make cards and gifts for my family and friends, and I even ran a little class to teach my co-workers how to do it,” she said.

Pam says she appreciates the safe, warm atmosphere of Wellspring, and all the sharing that occurs naturally.

“Sometimes if someone is telling a difficult story, even if it’s really intense, I find it doesn’t land too heavy on you or feel like too much when you have a pencil or paintbrush in your hand. You can take things in – hold them for people, and then let them go. You can share your own stuff too. This is a place where people understand,” she said.

Pam has enjoyed some outdoor Wellspring programs as well, including Pole Walking and Bird Strolls. In every scenario, including online, she says she feel at home, grounded and enriched.

“Wellspring is this whole entity that kind of wraps itself around you and lifts your spirit. It’s a warm gentle safe space with much understanding and kindness. It fills a niche that you didn’t know needed to be filled,” she said.

Pam also offers a unique perspective on the expanded version of Wellspring. “The really beautiful thing about Wellspring is that it has this lingering effect in your life. You feel good, not just when you are in a program, but ahead of time – the anticipation of going to the program. Then there is the soul-filling time when you are actually present at Wellspring, and then there’s the peaceful feeling you take home with you after. It can last for quite awhile. It’s really quite magic,” she said.

2 Responses

  1. Now that is one inspiring person. Thank you, Pam, for sharing your story with us and telling us how Wellspring has helped you on your journey.

  2. Thank you for sharing your story, Pam. I am so glad your sons have been a constant source of support for you – for a long time. AND I am so happy you found Wellspring! You have described the feelings that many/ most people express, time and again. Probably one of the most important features, as you said, is that the people – staff, volunteers, members -all understand what it is like to have a cancer diagnosis. You always feel ‘welcome’!
    It is wonderful that you are going to now take time to enjoy so many aspects of your Life – especially the expected grandchild. Good Luck with the Dragon Boat Team!

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