Woman keeps singing after lung cancer

Friday , May 16, 2014 - 1:44 PM

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Pam Cannon, of North Ogden, sings at the beginning of a program about World War II veterans at the...

PLEASANT VIEW – There’s a reason Pam Cannon takes one’s breath away as she sings on stage – because she’s a breath of fresh air in real life.

Watching the Pleasant View resident breathe out enthusiasm, seemingly effortlessly through her performance as well as in everyday life, one would think Cannon has not a care in the world.

But get to know her and you realize her glow is rooted in real challenges. In fact, she shouldn’t be singing at all. Cancer claimed nearly half a lung from her last year.

Now, the 66-year-old uses her performances to inspire others.

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“You don’t really have to say much when you take off your hair and tell them you’ve lost 40 percent of your lung and 10 percent of your diaphragm and you are still singing,” she said.

Cannon’s hair has grown back a few inches since she spent most all of last year fighting for her life. But she still most often prefers the look of her several longer-haired wigs.

“It only takes me a half hour to get dressed,” she said. “I just pick out what I want to be today.”

And joking isn’t just how she talks about her challenges. She says laughing is how she has survived.

“You gotta laugh,” she said. “Life is crazy. You gotta laugh.”

Cannon sports a photo of herself when she was completely bald and she was sitting between her two bald sons.

“My two sons were just as bald as I was,” she said. “I was looking more like my sons than my daughters.”

Cannon said laughing is part of life and how she wanted to be remembered even if she did die from her disease.

“I had a friend with cancer,” she said. “She pulled the sheet up over her head and threw in the towel so that’s how I remember her.”

And watching her friend is perhaps how Cannon had already determined how she would handle the news of her cancer diagnosis well in advance.

“They told me my life span was five years,” she said. “I said, ’no, I’m going to be the other percentage.’”

Her husband of 15 years, Jerry Cannon, recalls the response from his wife’s doctor when she was so enthusiastic, even when he was giving her the bad news about her health.

“He said: ‘Mrs. Cannon, you are not a typical cancer patient. Usually when I tell people they have cancer, you can see the life get sucked out of them.’”

But Cannon said she knows that attitude is a big part of a person’s healing.

“I was more upset about it than she was,” Jerry Cannon said. “I lost my first wife to cancer.”

And Cannon said despite what sounded like her doctor giving her a death sentence, she quickly decided to go out laughing.

“Life is funny anyway,” Cannon said. “Everyone will get cancer eventually.”

Originally from St. George, Cannon isn’t sure if her cancer came from the nuclear bomb fallout in Southern Utah or from second-hand smoke she breathed in during her years of singing in lounges in Las Vegas.

“We used to sit out on the hill and see the mushrooms,” she said of the bomb testing. “We thought they were fireworks.”

But despite whatever challenges came her way, Cannon said she decided she was going to choose life.

“Dying was not in my vocabulary,” she said. “I was not going to die.”

And Cannon said the process of receiving chemotherapy and her surgeries taught her a lot about living.

She said the cancer patients taught her deep lessons she will never forget.

“Some people have been there for 15 years,” she said. “(The cancer) is all through their bodies but bless their hearts, they are going and they are trying.”

And the challenges, she said, go far beyond the pain and the loss of hair.

She said “chemobrain” is a real problem. Chemo patients have a hard time keeping their thoughts together as the chemicals flow through their brains, causing neuropathy.

“Some people have had neuropathy for 10 or 15 years,” she said of the often longstanding problem.

Chemotherapy is hard on red blood cells and kidneys and creates many side effects that are difficult, she said.

Another side effect has been difficulty staying warm. She said she’s still sleeping with an electric blanket.

But Cannon said she gets around her difficulties by pretending they aren’t there.

“I think you are as you think,” she said. “As you think, you will be.”

Cannon said she believes in the power of positive thinking as well as music in allowing people to recover.

And she thanked her family for helping her stay on a positive path.

Cannon had planned an event to honor those with birthdays in her family at the time she was losing her hair. The family members turned the tide on her and all showed up with presents for her instead of the birthday guests.

“I went home that day with 13 hats,” she recalls.

Then she laughed about how the hats wouldn’t stay on her slick head unless she wore a little wig too.

Cannon has been laughing, singing and dancing in front of any audience she could find her whole life.

She tells of her musician father finding an audience for her wherever he could from the time she was very young. Her deep voice has captured the interest of all those around her.

Her professional career has included 23 years in Las Vegas and 13 years in Nashville in performing and voice-over work.

Some of her top Las Vegas gigs have been performing with Billy Martin and a country group, “E-Z Ride.”

Her recording career in Nashville included her earning a spot on the top 10 play list in Sweden with a song about how “bad boys like good girls when they’re bad.” She’s also the voice people hear over the speakers when they tour Hoover Dam.

And her sound still does captivate audiences.

At a recent appearance, her audience was a group of World War II veterans meeting at the Salt Lake City library.

Whenever she has an audience, Cannon’s message to others is to pay attention to their bodies.

She said that just before Christmas 2012, she had gone to the doctor because she didn’t feel herself and she knew something was wrong.

After some tests, her cancer was discovered and her fight began.

And as soon as that fight was over, Cannon transitioned just as quickly into her life without cancer as she had transitioned into her life with the disease.

Cannon did her first post-cancer performance the week after she got out of the hospital.

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