No one should face cancer alone, but as an 18-year-old diagnosed with stage 4 lymphoma, Pam Paziotopoulos felt very much by herself.
When a routine mammogram detected breast cancer 27 years later, Paziotopoulos knew to seek help. She found it in Imerman Angels, an organization that pairs people battling cancer with those who have been through the war, and survived.
Q. How did you find Imerman Angels?
A. My oncologist referred me. The woman they paired me with was my age. She was the mother of a little girl. She was me.
Q. How did talking to her help you?
A. She was somebody who had been through the war and who knew what was coming. She let me know that I could do it, too. I am an attorney. I base things on evidence. She was my evidence. She fought this war, then came back to take my hand and go through it again with me.
Q. Are you mentoring now?
A. I am mentoring two girls, actually. One has had a really hard time with the hair loss. I helped her get to the right wig people. The self-esteem issues are really tough. You look in the mirror and you have no hair and you are either too thin or heavier than you have ever been. I remind them, this is such a short segment of your life. It is only temporary.
Q. Do Angels meet their matches?
A. You can make it as personal as you want. You can meet for coffee, or just talk on the phone. I never met my mentor, but her voice is embedded in me forever. I will be open to my matches for as long as they need me.
Q. What do you gain from being a mentor?
A. I love the fact that I am able to give back. I am able to be the evidence for someone else, and the confidence they need to get through their journey.
Q. Was losing your hair hard for you?
A. It was devastating. I wanted to be that little Greek girl with the thick hair again. The second time I lost my hair, it came back very thin and fine. I was complaining to the girls at Salon Efthimia. They suggested I try hair extensions. Now, I look a lot more like me.
Q. Other than your hair, how has cancer changed you?
A. I live differently, by exercising and meditating. I’m far more disorganized. It’s just not important anymore. Once you have been at death’s door, twice, you have a different perspective.
Q. Would you encourage others to act as Angels?
A. You have to do what you are comfortable doing, when you are ready to do it. I’m not doing the walks or passing out pins. I’m giving back in other ways. For me, what fits is doing this mentoring.
Q. Where are you in your recovery?
A. I am four years out. I still think about it a lot. It’s hard not to, but I just want to live, live, live.