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'They Treated Me Like Family:' Cancer Services Team Helps Woman Beat Breast Cancer

| Date Posted: 9/30/2020

Breast cancer survivor Pam Purcell (second from left) said the FirstHealth
Cancer Services staff treated her like family and helped her manage
her breast cancer diagnosis and treatment much better than she could have ever
expected. Pictured with Purcell are members of her FirstHealth
Cancer Services care team, (from left) Michael Batalo, M.D., medical oncologist,
Lynn Lanier, MSN, R.N., oncology nurse navigator and Stephen King, M.D., radiation oncologist.


PINEHURST - Pam Purcell does not make a habit of going to the doctor. If asked a few years ago, she wouldn’t have been able to recall the last time she made a visit, routine or otherwise. Yet one March day in 2019, Purcell found herself sitting in a patient room waiting to see family medicine physician Karen Smith, M.D.


“I’ve always been healthy, but I felt like the Lord was nudging me to go,” she says.


The diagnosis was breast cancer. A single doctor’s appointment turned into months of treatment under the care of radiation oncologist Stephen King, M.D. and medical oncologist Michael Batalo, M.D., both of FirstHealth Cancer Services.


Purcell was an employee at FirstHealth of the Carolinas long before she was a patient, spending more than 10 years working in the Child Development Center and 20 years in food and nutrition. Her late husband, Big Al, worked as an operating room transporter at FirstHealth Moore Regional Hospital for 30 years before he passed.


“We both knew almost everybody that worked there,” she says. “He died in 2018, and I was so sad. I think your emotional and mental health has a lot to do with the physical health of your body. Even if the cancer was already there, I think it may have escalated because I was so sad.”


An already-stressful period of mourning grew even more taxing as treatment progressed. Purcell, who has been self-employed since 2015, would go straight to work managing her cleaning company after receiving radiation. It was an incredibly draining schedule, but she says FirstHealth staff found ways to lift her spirits.


“I think I went through it better than I expected because of their kindness and generosity,” she says. “The staff treated me like family. I felt so comfortable and I could talk to them about anything.”


Lack of health insurance was an additional stressor Purcell faced. FirstHealth was able to help her walk through that, too, with the assistance of Oncology Nurse Navigators, who support newly diagnosed cancer patients and coordinate care services. Nurse navigator Lynn Lanier, MSN, R.N., helped find various resources to assist with mounting bills, including the Pretty in Pink Foundation based in Raleigh, N.C., which helped cover medical bills. The Cancer CARE Fund, supported by the Foundation of FirstHealth, was able to assist with the purchase of medication and gas for transportation.


After a lumpectomy in late July and a few weeks of rest, she was back to work with a recommendation to take it slow on cleaning jobs.


Now a breast cancer survivor, Purcell can once again devote time to her other passion: volunteering. Years ago, she kickstarted a program at her church called Love Thy Neighbor Giveaway, for which she coordinates donations from the community to give to those in need. Even in the most challenging moments of 2019, she held on to that caring spirit.


“Some days I would see people in radiation who were really not feeling good,” Purcell says. “I would try to talk to them and encourage them. I was comfortable enough to do that because the staff made me so comfortable. I just felt so grateful, because it could’ve been a much different story I believe.”


About FirstHealth Cancer Services

From diagnosis to the conclusion of treatment, our multidisciplinary professional team navigates a course of action and supports your choices regarding fighting your illness. We use the latest research, treatment, technology, quality care and most importantly, the dedication of our staff to fight all stages of cancer. All of our cancer care physicians are board-certified and participate in a wide range of cancer clinical trials.  

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