Komen for the Cure

Komen's Kohl: 'I want to be part of the solution'

Posted May 4, 2018 5:46 p.m. EDT
Updated July 13, 2018 1:42 p.m. EDT

Pam Kohl, executive director of Komen North Carolina Triangle to the Coast, is surrounded by talk of breast cancer – research, fundraising, personal stories and fearlessness in the face of the disease – even as she is fighting her own battle.

As she prepares for the 22nd annual Triangle Race for the Cure, Kohl is putting her body where her mouth is.

At any Race for the Cure, tears are as prevalent as pink. It's a celebration of survivors of breast cancer, a reflection on those who have lost their battle and a fundraiser for research dollars to help, once and for all, find a cure.

"Emotionally it's inspiring, and exciting to watch what's happening, but it's also hard," Kohl said.

"It's a really complex, hard event. There is physical labor, emotional labor, all of that. My stamina isn't what it normally is so leading up to it was really hard physically."

A key moment comes when survivors, grouped by the number of years since their diagnosis, parade through the cheering crowd.

At the 2017 race, for the first time, Kohl marched with the "forever fighters," those with metastatic breast cancer, a cancer that has spread throughout the body and cannot be cured.

"I know I have a platform as the director of Komen," she said, "and I want to inspire people and I want to give people hope, but I also want to make sure that people are vigilant. Five years isn't home free."

Kohl was seven years out from her initial diagnosis when doctors told her that her cancer had returned and spread. She's talking about it openly in hopes that what she does for a living may save her life and the lives of others.

"To talk about survivorship is really important, but it's also really important to talk about (that) there are lots of women with metastatic breast cancer," she said.

In pursuing the best possible outcome, Kohl decided to change doctors, to see specialists who are more research-oriented.

"Duke Cancer Institute has a lot of Komen-funded research," she said. "I want to be part of the solution.

"I'm on a drug that wasn't available two years ago, and then in two years, if this cocktail doesn't work, I need the next drug. It may be at Duke's research lab right now."

She hopes researchers can learn from her atypical case in ways that will help others.

"You know, why did this happen to my tumor, my breast cancer, when it shouldn't have," she said.

Although Kohl's cancer has been unpredictable, the good news is, her recent scans show the tumors in her body are stable, not growing.

She's on a mission to find answers and immersing herself in information as much as she can take.

"For me, more information helps," Kohl said. "When I get overloaded, I watch trashy TV!"

She'll join other metastatic cancer patients at the start of the survivor celebration at Saturday's race. They'lll wear special, new T-shirts designating them as forever fighters.