A successful criminal prosecutor known for thorough work on violent cases has had a tumultuous year battling breast cancer, and she is now due to undergo surgery for another difficult condition.
It's a surgery that could help change the quality of life for hundreds, if not thousands, of women.
"I am officially, today, a one-year cancer survivor," said Assistant Davidson County District Attorney Pam Anderson.
She endured breast cancer surgery, chemotherapy and 33 rounds of radiation.
"I was as bald as a cueball, but my hair started growing back, and I thought I was done with all this. I was back working and then, all of a sudden, I developed lymphedema and that brought back all the ghosts," she said.
Lymphedema happens to about 20 percent of women who have had their lymph nodes surgically removed during breast cancer surgery, preventing lymph fluid from properly draining.
"Sometimes people have heard of the term 'elephantitis,' and that's basically what it is," Anderson said.
And anything can trigger it, from a mosquito bite to a hot shower, to a sporting event.
"When I first had this, I went to a Titans game and just the walk from the car to the stadium in the hot sun, my hand started swelling up like a bee had stung me, and I was having an allergic reaction," Anderson said.
The standard treatment is massage therapy and bandaging up to three times a week.
But it's hard to be a district attorney with three hours of weekday therapy, so Anderson decided there must be something else, even if her Nashville doctors said there wasn't.
"I've had to knock on doors, ask questions and investigate. And that's how I stumbled upon this," she said.
Dr. David Chang, the leading lymphedema surgeon in the country, currently at the University of Chicago, has received a huge federal grant to train other doctors in lymphatic covenular bypass surgery.
It's a surgery that connects microscopic lymphatic fluid passages with other veins. It requires two to seven minor cuts and then four hours of tedious but mildly invasive surgery.
Chang claims success rates from 75 to 90 percent.
"It's fancy 'roto-rooter.' It's basically a bypass around the faulty pumping system," Anderson said.
And the surgery isn't experimental. While rare, it's a mainstream surgery, and Anderson said she couldn't believe it isn't better known.
"We are in this age of breast cancer awareness, and it's all about surviving. And, believe me, I am so grateful, because I know it could be worse. But at some point you get tired of being the poster," she said.
The one thing Anderson said she looks forward to the most is wearing her wedding ring again. She should be able to do that after her surgery, scheduled for Dec. 10.
Friday, October 25 2013 7:47 PM EDT2013-10-25 23:47:50 GMT
Breast cancer can be a tough diagnosis to work through, and even when the cancer is gone the fight isn't always over. Last summer, Janetta Elmore had a mastectomy after being diagnosed with breast cancer. AfterMore >>
Breast cancer can be a tough diagnosis to work through, and even when the cancer is gone the fight isn't always over.More >>