Pamela McTague

Photo: Craig Takihashi/City of Hope

6 of 9
Walking the Walk: Pamela McTague

Monday, you're fine. Tuesday, you find a lump. Wednesday, you leave an oncologist's office thinking you're dying—or will be if you don't subject yourself to the ravages of chemo or surgery. And all the while you can't quite believe it's real. "Many breast cancer patients are like, 'But I don't feel sick!'" says Pamela McTague, a clinical research nurse at City of Hope in Duarte, California.

McTague meets patients after their diagnosis, when they're reeling. She shepherds them through clinical trials, explaining the process and procedures, like radioactive-isotope injections, and monitoring their prognosis. Beyond the hours they're together at the hospital, she maintains an ongoing relationship with her charges, checking in at three months, six months, a year, even five years.

But what really makes McTague a godsend to her patients is the perspective she brings and the hope she embodies. That's because she herself was diagnosed with cancer in both breasts in October 2016, then had a lumpectomy, radiation, and plastic surgery. She credits her cancer with making her better able to prepare patients for the treatment aftermath. "I get what it's like to see yourself in the mirror after surgery," she says.

Even though she didn't have chemo, McTague knows how it changes patients' appearance, and she never wants them to feel self-conscious. So as she talks with them before their procedures (about their family, what's important to them), she pays close attention to each patient's face. "When I see them at follow-up appointments, I want to be able to say, 'Oh, I know those beautiful eyes, that nice smile. You look great.'"

—Corrie Pikul