Pam Lyons Shepherd, a communications operator and record keeper at the Greenville Police Department, received good news from her ears/nose/throat (ENT) doctor during a recent visit.
“Pet scan showed I’m free of cancer,” she wrote on her Facebook page. “Radiation damage to throat and mouth is likely something I will deal with for life. But good news is I will be here…to be permanent pain for all those that love me. Couldn’t be happier to hear those words from the doctor.”
Shepherd, who suffered a real bad sore throat and diagnosed with COVID this past December, said she began noticing a lump on her neck afterwards.
She visited Dr. Joshua Godsey, the ENT in Dayton, who performed a needle biopsy, after A local physcian’s assistant, Stephanie House, found it.
“Dr. Godsey couldn’t see it but the biopsy showed immediately that Shepherd had cancer, oropharyngeal squamous cell carcinoma (OPSCC), commonly known as throat cancer or tonsil cancer.
According to one website, it refers to the cancer of the middle part of the pharynx, known as oropharynx, which extends vertically from the soft palate to the superior area of the hyoid bone and includes the base and posterior one-third of the tongue, the tonsils, soft palate, and posterior and lateral pharyngeal walls.
“The primary was on my left tonsil,” Shepherd said. “It was kind of shocking but we just didn’t know.”
The site went on to say, “More than 90 percent of oropharyngeal cancers are squamous cell cancers, which is the cell lining of the oropharynx. Two types of oropharyngeal cancer can be distinguished, HPV-associated, due to an oral human papillomavirus infection, and non-HPV-associated, mainly due to tobacco smoking and alcohol use. In addition to the direct invasion of the tissues, oropharyngeal cancer can spread through blood and lymphatics. The major symptoms of oropharyngeal cancer include sore throat, odynophagia, and dysphagia. Diagnosis is made on the basis of biopsy results of the affected tissue. Treatment involves surgery, radiotherapy, chemotherapy, or a combination of these therapies.”
“I’ve done it all (treatments),” Shepherd said, raising her arms.
After it was learned she had the head/neck cancer, she underwent a contrast ultrasound and a pet scan, which showed it was on the left tonsil.
“After his discovery, Godsey made the decision to cut it out,” she recalled. “It was a radical modified neck dissection. He also did a tonsillectomy.
He couldn’t get it all out. When he got in there, the lymph nodes had grown so big they decided they had to treat it more radically and aggressive with radiation.”
She said she underwent 30 rounds of radiation and seven rounds of cisplation chemotherapy.
“It burns the good and the bad,” Shepherd said.”They took out 40 lymph nodes with radiation.”
Now, she does neck therapy to help move the nodes around as well as physical therapy.
“My side effects are dry mouth, exhaustion and fatigue,” she said. “I will still have to be tested every five years to see if I’m cured.”
She was in the hospital for 10 days.
“I couldn’t eat for 10 weeks and they put a feeding tube in me,” she recalled,”At six weeks, I started eating again, but I can’t taste much. Even bread tastes like glue.”
Shepherd, who has lost 50 pounds, said this was the same type of cancer that claimed the life of her sister Laura Ahrens’ fiance Kent Clark three years ago at the age of 52.
“They had to remove part of his tongue,” she said.
Shepherd, who marked her 19th year at the police department in April, said her co-workers donated their own paid leave time to help in Shepherd’s recuperation. She did not work from April 2 until about a month ago when she returned to the office.
“It was probably over 200 hours they donated,” she said.
Shepherd, a 1988 graduate of Greenville High school, did some waitress and bartender work before coming to work for the police department.
She lives with her fiance, John Crossley, whom she has been with for 11 years.
“He took me to every one of my radiation treatments,” she said.
Others who helped were co-worker Elizabeth Collins who started a meal train, which saw food being brought to their home during Pam’s illness.
There were also t-shirt sales done by her co-workers and employees at the Darke County Courthouse to help out.
Shepherd, the daughter of Paula and Nandor Varsanyi and Joe and Cathy Lyons, said she loves to read; go kayaking, boating and go swimming at the lake; and cooking.
“John and I also have a place in Colon, Mich. We go there as much as we can,” she said.
She cooks differently today.
“Now I eat to live; I don’t live to eat,” she responded. “It’s good to get nutrition in you.”
What got her through the rough times this year? “My friends coming over, making me laugh and telling me how strong I was; cards and words of kindness; and my grandchildren,” she remarked, “I stayed positive. I’ve got a lot of living to do yet.”
Shepherd has two children, Alex and Hannah Shepherd, and two grandchildren, Olivia, 6, and Jayden, 3 months.
She is a member of the Veterans of Foreign Wars and American Legion, both of Greenville.