Pam Ingram was admittedly nervous as she waited to toss out the first pitch at Tropicana Field, when the Tampa Bay Rays took on the Baltimore Orioles.
After all, she knew a big crowd would be watching — including her family and friends, and colleagues from Wesley Chapel High School.
And, the English teacher would be the first to tell you that she doesn’t have substantial experience in throwing baseballs.
But, she was up for it.
After all, she won the Honorary Bat Girl contest sponsored by Major League Baseball, which led to royal treatment by the Tampa Bay Rays.
She and her husband, Keith, and their daughter, Abby, had the chance to spend some time on the field before the 1:10 p.m. game on July 17.
Keith even took a few swings in the batter’s on-deck circle, waving the pink baseball bat engraved with Pam’s name and bearing the signatures of quite a few Rays’ players.
The family also had the chance to pose for photos with players.
The big moment came, when a video played, featuring photos of Pam, along with a narration of her prize-winning essay.
Her name was emblazoned in giant letters on electronic billboards and, as she made her first pitch, she showed up — much larger than life — on the Jumbotron.
And, that was just the beginning.
Following the on-field festivities, Pam and her family went into the stands where they joined up with a crowd of 104 people who had come out to the game to show their support and celebrate with Pam.
The Rays, who are struggling this year, even broke an eight-game losing streak to defeat the Baltimore Orioles.
The whole experience was overwhelming, said Pam, currently in remission from the cancer that began in her breast and spread to her bone.
Her heart is full of gratitude for her family, for her supporters from Wesley Chapel High School where she has taught since 2000, and for her doctors.
She discovered she had breast cancer in 2014, before she turned 40 — the age at which women are recommended to begin breast cancer screenings.
She’d been experiencing intermittent pain, and her husband advised her to get it checked out.
The visit to her doctor’s office led to a mammogram and an ultrasound, which then led to referrals for a surgeon.
One of those referrals was for Dr. Sylvia Campbell, which Pam said was a blessing.
Campbell was “very calming, very nurturing,” Pam said. “She just has a way of giving you bad news, optimistically.
“Her office is a house in Hyde Park, so you feel like you’re going over to your aunt’s house or your grandma’s house. It’s just a very comfortable feeling,” Pam said.
Campbell put her in touch with Dr. Christopher George, an oncologist at Florida Cancer Specialists.
“The two of them, I guess, have worked a lot of breast cancer cases,” Pam said.
The cancer that began in Pam’s breast had spread to the pelvic bone, lower lumbar and femur, she said.
“That’s what put it at a stage IV,” she said.
“We had set up surgery to take out the lump, so I had a lumpectomy and then they took out the lymph node, and I honestly thought I was going to have to do the whole chemo and radiation,” she said.
She prepared her students at school, telling them on the second day of classes about the cancer and letting them know she didn’t know how long she would need to be out.
She told her students: “AP (Advanced Placement) kids, your goal is to pass the AP exams. Sophomores, your goal is to knock it out of the park with the FSA (Florida Standards Assessment).
“Whether I’m here, or whether I’m not, I’m still your teacher,” she said.
“The kids were amazing. A couple of my former students, who were seniors at the time, the next day showed up with candy and flowers, and a big homemade card,” she said.
In her particular case — because every case is different — the test showed that her breast cancer was positive for estrogen receptors, meaning that estrogen was feeding the cancer.
Instead of going to chemotherapy or radiation, Dr. George put her on estrogen blockers.
And when the pet scan came back, there was no detectable sign of malignancy, she said.
The Wesley Chapel woman believes she won Honorary Bat Girl contest because she believes the judges are primarily interested in choosing someone who is committed to the cause of beating cancer.
“I have participated in Relay for Life, American Cancer Society’s Relay for Life, for years. I’ve captained teams, student teams, teams with friends. I’ve participated as a volunteer and now I go as a survivor,” she said.
In her essay, she made a point to do a shout-out to her school because every October they hold a “Pink Out” at a football game, painting a pink ribbon on the 50-yard line.
She believes that social media support from her students and colleagues at Wesley Chapel High, as well as friends and family across the country, likely played a role in her selection, too.
While she savored the joys of the day, she appreciates every other day, too.
“I officially reached remission. With bone cancer, there’s really no cure,” she said.
Pam Ingram’s winning essay
I was drafted into this fight in 2014 when I was diagnosed with breast cancer that spread to the bone.
Thanks to aggressive treatment and amazing doctors, I am a Stage 4 cancer survivor. Bone cancer has no cure, which is why I am going to bat against cancer. I’ve worked to raise money for ACS and to help raise awareness.
I’ve been part of Relay for Life for 15 years as a participant, a team captain, and now a survivor.
I celebrate with fellow survivors, support those who are currently battling cancer and remember those who have lost that battle.
I encourage my students and fellow teachers to join the fight at school at events such as our annual “Pink Out” football game.
I share my story in hopes of encouraging others to be vigilant. I was diagnosed before I turned 40, the recommended age for women to start getting mammograms.
If my story helps even one person with early detection (a huge factor in success in fighting cancer), then I know my journey is not in vain.
I’m going to bat against cancer to show that I am a survivor and that a positive mental attitude is key to winning the fight.
Source: 2016 Honorary Bat Girl Contest, Tampa Bay Rays
Published July 27, 2016