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Living with cancer, Kohl emphasizes making memories with family

January 11, 2019

For Pam Kohl, living with Stage 4 metastatic breast cancer, the holidays are a time to make memories that last. That means Chanukah traditions of family and food.

“Tradition is a big part of what we do in our family,” she said. “It is neat that everything going on makes it a little bit more intentional.”

In Kohl’s kitchen, the heart of the home, the love is evident in the air. Grandma’s herb chicken and Pam’s potato latkes are always part of the Chanukah celebration for Kohl and her family, husband Tom Gongaware, daughter Sofie and son Max.

“We like to eat a lot of oily foods to represent the oil that lasted, latkes being one,” Sofie Gongaware explained.

A pink Christmas tree represents more than Kohl’s work with Susan G. Komen North Carolina Triangle to the Coast, where she is executive director.

At this time two years ago, she had just undergone a mastectomy for a recurrence of breast cancer.

“Sometimes it feels like it was yesterday, and sometimes it feels like it’s been forever,” Kohl said.

The diagnosis the cancer had spread, metastasized, would come nearly two months later.

“It was so surprising then. Now it’s just kind of something we live with every day,” she said.

The support of family, Kohl’s connections in the Komen community and holiday traditions keep her going.

Her family finds themselves closer now than they were two years ago, sometimes talking about the scary stuff, but more often laughing about lessons Kohl has taught them.

In trying to find her way through her tangled new normal of living with an incurable cancer, Kohl says she feels gifted with powerful advice from those she’s met on this journey – advice such as it’s OK not to have profound conversations every time she’s with family, it’s OK to just watch a basketball game with her son or reality TV with her daughter.

“I know what I’m living with,” Kohl said. “It’s there all the time, but you just keep doing it.”

“This time is special,” Sofie Gongaware said. “We need to cherish every moment of it, and it won’t be forever, but whatever we can make of it is – the memories that we have – that’s all, you know.”

Kohl spent the new year undergoing intensive radiation for another tumor that appeared on her hip. She’s recently been feeling pretty sick.

She says she lives 12 weeks to 12 weeks. That’s the time between her scans when she knows if the cancer has spread.

Her next scan is early February.

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