Teen faces amputation to save her life

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By John Davis


These are four letters Pam Gainey hangs onto.

Next week, she’ll travel to Greenville, where surgeons will remove her right leg, hip and pelvis to save her life.

Pam, 18, is fighting cancer.

“Hope is all they’re giving us to depend on,” Pam said. “And, I believe in miracles.”

As her family gathered for church Sunday, the mood inside their mobile home off Steen Road in Jefferson was tense – only Pam could break it with her brand of humor.

Her sister, Stephanie Smith, describes her as a frizzy-headed girl with red, chubby cheeks with a tendency to drive way too fast and blare music way too loud.

Her mother, Loris Torres, says Pam is the strongest person she’s ever met.

“(But) I don’t consider myself as the strongest person my mom knows. I may be strong because I have to put up with a lot. The Lord only gave me what I can handle. Maybe that’s strong for another person,” Pam said. “No matter how hard they throw things at you, you got to have faith in God and he’ll give you the strength to pull through it.”

Pam isn’t a stranger to cancer.

When she was in elementary school in 1999, surgeons removed a primitive neuroectodermal tumor from Pam’s body. She also under went chemotherapy and a stem-cell transplant.

“Doctors gave us a 20 percent chance in 1999 and (Pam) is still here,” her mother said. “Everybody going through this needs to know there is hope.”

Seven years later, Pam felt pain in her right leg and managed to get through her senior year at Central High.

“I felt like graduation was something to strive for then – we could deal with everything else later,” Pam said. “I wanted to finish my senior year – to finish it with friends and family.”

Last summer, Pam told her family about the pain she was having in her leg and doctors’ appointments were made.

“We took her to a series of doctors and specialists – they said it was in her mind,” Pam’s mother said.

But it wasn’t.

Doctors diagnosed Pam with fibro sarcoma, likely developed during radiation treatments from her first bout of cancer.

The news from Pam’s oncologist was harsh – chemo may buy her time but it would take a miracle for her to survive.

“It hit hard, but I kept it in  – held all my feelings inside because I was worried about how my family would take it,” Pam said.

The family sought second opinions, but the news was the same.

“I got down on my knees and prayed to send my daughter some hope. She needed it,” Pam’s mother said.

Soon after, Pam’s orthopedic oncologist called with a desperate option – amputation.

Pam decided to take it.

“I told the doctor if it was between my life or my leg, take my leg,” Pam said. “I don’t need it.”

Her mother understands the surgery doesn’t come with any guarantees. “But it’s the only chance we’ve got,” she said.

Pam is scheduled to go under the knife Wednesday.

She hopes others will pray for her.

“But not just pray for me,” Pam said, “but pray to give my family strength to cope.”

And to keep hope.