Meet Pam Taylor
Delta airlines flight attendant Pam Taylor was passing through the cabin on a flight from Bermuda to Boston when she recognized one of the passengers – and to Pam, this was no ordinary passenger. It was Dr. Rebecca Yang, the Lahey surgeon who had diagnosed and treated Pam for a form of breast cancer called Paget disease.
“I was passing through the cabin when I looked at this passenger and recognized her. I started crying and said ‘This lady saved my life.’ The people next to her got up so I could give her a hug.”
Pam’s story began with a small scab on her right nipple that she initially attributed to some sort of injury. When the scab didn’t go away after a short time, she was referred to Dr. Yang for a biopsy.
“I credit Pam with being proactive about her health. She noticed an abnormality on her breast and she took action.”
A Rare Cancer
The diagnosis was Paget disease, a rare type of cancer involving the nipple and the skin around it (the areola) that can affect both women and men and can also cause tumors inside the breast.
“Dr. Yang sat down and explained it all to me, then she assembled a team of oncologists and others. She said it was fortunate that it was caught in this early stage.”
Dealing With the Diagnosis
Hearing a diagnosis of cancer can rock your world, Pam says. But she was fortunate to have the strong support of her two sisters and her mother, who accompanied her to appointments. She and her family were touched by the strength they drew from Dr. Yang, whose warmth, professionalism, and expertise helped instill a strong sense of confidence and hope.
“When I first met Dr. Yang, I liked her immediately. I felt very comfortable. She was calm and soft-spoken and pleasant. She explained everything to me and gave me the choices.”
Choosing a Treatment
Paget disease sometimes may be treated with a lumpectomy, but Pam opted for a double mastectomy to lower her chances of recurrence to virtually zero. Dr. Yang performed the surgery at Lahey, and then Pam had an immediate breast reconstruction at the same time, performed by Lahey plastic surgeon Dr. Lifei Guo.
“A positive attitude makes a world of difference. I’m very realistic and don’t give false hope, but in this day and age, many breast cancers are very treatable and curable.”
A Happy Ending
When Pam hugged Dr. Yang on the plane, they both felt the strength of the bond that had grown between them. But on that flight, Pam wanted to give even more. So she obtained a bottle of champagne from the first-class cabin, wrapped it, and gave it to Dr. Yang – who coincidentally was flying home after participating in a breast cancer screening event.
“I was just floored by the champagne. It made my day. I was thinking, this is why I do what I do. With breast cancer a relationship builds, and you can nurture it and keep it.”