Courageous, blind, single mother battles Leiomyosarcoma, a rare form of cancer

June 2, 2008

By Jen Bakken
Staff Writer

Sometimes, there are things people tend to take for granted walking through life.

The ability to write a check is mostly viewed as an annoyance because there is another bill to be paid.

Fixing hair in the mirror and never seeming satisfied because there are always imperfections.

Rather than being grateful for being capable of being on the road, complaints are heard about driving in construction.

Instead of celebrating the joy that children feel on the baseball field, the work left to do races through our minds.

Taking things for granted can be commonplace, but there is a woman who could inspire everyone to see things differently.

Pam Kusha Gannis is the single mother of three boys, battling a rare form of cancer, and is walking through life in complete darkness.

At the age of two, Pam developed Retinoblastoma, cancer of the eyes, and she has been blind ever since.

The daughter of Gene and Janice Kusha, Pam grew up in Delano with her four sisters.

While her sisters, including Pam’s identical twin, attended school in Delano, she attended classes in the Robbinsdale School District.

This district was able to have Braille materials, and Pam was the first blind student to graduate from Armstrong High School in 1976.

“I am the only blind person in the family,” said Pam Kusha Gannis. “But, I was never sheltered away.”

After high school, Pam received her bachelor’s degree in communication and journalism, and has never had trouble finding employment.

Currently, she works at home as a medical transcriptionist. Because she began typing her school assignments in third grade, she is very efficient at typing.

Her sound-activated computer software enables her to perform tasks by repeating typed sentences and giving her choices for misspelled words.

One thing that has always been difficult for her to accept is her dependence on public transportation. This is why she lives in Golden Valley, where she is close to a bus line.

As the single mother of three boys, Scott, who is 16 years old, and 13 year old twins, Todd and Chad, it can be a challenge for her to attend their sporting and school events.

Being blind is not the only challenge in Pam’s life. Her mother passed away from breast cancer 11 years ago, and Pam, herself, had a brain tumor removed the same year.

In February, Pam was diagnosed with Leiomyosarcoma, a rare and aggressive form of cancer, thought to be associated with the radiation she received as a child.

She underwent surgery to remove the tumor and has been undergoing chemotherapy. In April, however, another Leiomyosarcoma tumor was found.

Ironically, this is the same type of cancer that claimed the life of her identical twin sister five years ago.

She admits that life throws some curves sometimes, and she is trying not to worry about the major surgery she will be having.

“I have the attitude that the Lord has provided as I’ve gone along in my life,” she said with a smile. “I just troop right along, keep thinking positive, and that’s gotten me through so many things.”

On Wednesday, during the 11- hour procedure, doctors will remove a bone from the left side of her face, attempt to take out the malignant tumor, and then replace the bone with one from her leg.

Recovery time is uncertain, and she is grateful for her doctors.

“They haven’t come to me and said, you have this long to live, or you might die,” she said.

Because she is well aware of the risks associated with her diagnoses, surgery, and recovery, she has been making many preparations.

She wants to make sure her boys are taken care of, and also continue to be involved and maintain their routines.

“When you have children, it just rips your heart apart because you can’t imagine not being here for them,” she said sadly. “I’m trying to work on things like my will or funeral arrangements, just in case.”

Because of her surgery in February, followed by Chemotherapy, and now more surgery this dedicated mother has had a difficult time working.

Another problem she faces is climbing medical bills, and, because of her pre-existing medical condition, inability to obtain good medical insurance. Since she does try to work, she finds it hard to qualify for other types of assistance.

This is why her family and friends in the Delano area are hosting a benefit Saturday, June 28 at the Delano American Legion. There will be a silent auction and food.

For more information about the benefit, contact Linda Danielson at (952) 955-2296. Donations can be sent to the State Bank of Delano.

Throughout this whole ordeal, what is amazing is Pam’s ability to think positively and even find humor in things.

“Some people wonder why I wear glasses if I’m blind,” she laughed. “They are only cosmetic, but I tell them the doctor went wrong with my prescription.”

Pam is truly grateful for her friends and family. She even plans to attend the benefit if all goes well with the surgery and recovery.

Walking through this life, it might not be bad to take a step back and try to see things her way.

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