Being the mother of a 2- and 4-year-old doesn’t leave much opportunity for feeling sexy. But being a mother of a 2- and 4-year-old and having breast cancer leaves even less.
Jamie Pavek, 36 of North Oaks, Minn., was diagnosed with stage 3-C infiltrating ductile carcinoma shortly after her son was born. She found a lump in her breast that her doctors initially dismissed as a clogged milk duct.
“I think the lump was minimized because I was nursing,” Pavek said, “but I don’t know if I would have felt my breast if I hadn’t been nursing.”
Pavek’s treatment included a single breast mastectomy, chemotherapy, radiation and a second mastectomy surgery in March.
“Being a mother of such young children, that was the hardest part for me,” Pavek said. “I just thought, ‘Oh man, the world is hard enough, I don’t want to leave my kids without a mom.’ “
Even though her daughter Sydney is only 4 years old, Pavek said she and her husband talk openly with her about breast cancer.
“She knows people die from cancer; she knows I lost my hair,” Pavek said of her daughter. “I don’t want her to fear death.”
Talking about Pavek’s cancer is a normal conversation in their family, she said.
“But in a way, you think, I hope they don’t remember it,” she said.
When Pavek started the chemotherapy treatments, she and her friends and family planned a head-shaving party.
“We made it fun,” she said. “I thought, well, we can get rid of it on my terms.”
Being a mom of young kids isn’t usually a very glamorous time for women, but in a short period of time, Pavek’s body has undergone major changes: two breasts removed, hair loss, weight gain, menopause.
“Do I feel sexy? No,” she said. “It’s almost like you have to redefine sexy, and I’m still in that.”
Having kids definitely affected Pavek’s experience with breast cancer, she said.
“There just was no question that we were going to fight this,” she said, “I want my kids to know that I fought for our family.”
After her first chemotherapy treatment, Pavek said she was sick in bed for three days with heavy side effects.
A peer at a young women breast cancer survivors’ group recommended that she try acupuncture to relieve her symptoms.
In addition to acupuncture, Pavek said she also studies Qigong, a Chinese method of medicinal exercise healing.
“I’ve really seriously taken the Eastern medicine and the Western medicine to treat what’s going on,” she said.
Despite the treatments, the surgeries and the body changes, Pavek remains positive about some aspects of her experience with cancer.
“If there’s one good thing that can come out of that entire situation, it’s the people who stepped in and took over,” she said.
Earlier, when the Paveks moved to North Oaks, just blocks away from Jamie’s mother, she thought, “Oh good, because my mom’s aging and I’ll probably have to take care of her.”
Ironically, her mother came to care for the children every day when Pavek was sick so they wouldn’t have to go to a day care.