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Ducking Cancer: OSU faculty member tries to stay positive amid breast cancer diagnosis

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OSU staff member Holly Pasmore was diagnosed with breast cancer in September. The university is trying to raise awareness through pink ducks.

Less than a month ago, Oklahoma State employee Holly Pasmore heard the three words no person ever wants to hear.

“You have cancer.”

After going in for a routine check-up with her OBGYN, who found a lump, doctors discovered that she had stage 2, triple positive, invasive ductal carcinoma.

When Pasmore received the news, she immediately broke down, her 20-year-old son holding her as she sobbed uncontrollably. 

“I always thought that I would react differently,” said Pasmore, “But your body just does what it's going to do.”

Despite the tragic diagnosis, Pasmore sees the positives in a negative situation. 

“One person gave me a piece of advice,” Pasmore said. “She said ‘negativity has no place when you're fighting breast cancer because you can't be negative, you have to get in a fighting mindset and you have to stay positive or it's going to win and that's not an option.’”

Now in October, which is breast cancer awareness month, Pasmore is adjusting to her diagnosis. She still finds time to work at OSU’s greenhouse learning center remotely and is rarely on campus to see the new features.

But one specific feature relates directly to her. Enter the pink ducks.

During the week of Oct. 5, hundreds of pink rubber ducks were plopped in the Edmon Low library fountain. The department of wellness placed them there as part of its “what the duck?” campaign to spread awareness about breast cancer.

“This week’s event is about breast cancer awareness, the importance of creating awareness and healthy habits for prevention,” said Marissa Saenz, the health education coordinator for the department of wellness and leader of this event.

Near the ducks is a sign with a QR code that links students to the department of wellness’ video series led by Saenz called “talk about it Tuesday.” Videos are posted every Tuesday on a topic relevant to the student population. 

Pasmore and Saenz met when she went to pick up pink buttons, provided by the department of wellness during this month, for her and her family members.

“Pink is not my favorite color but now I guess it's going to have to be,” Pasmore laughed.

Each pink duck represents someone who has been affected by breast cancer. Since students are no longer allowed to place ducks in the fountain due to COVID-19, they are encouraged to submit a picture of a colored duck in order for the chance to win a prize. 

“I think it's great anytime you can spotlight something to bring awareness to something and the campus is a great place to do that because there are so many students and visitors on campus everyday” Pasmore said.

Despite some praises of the event, Pasmore said the university could do more by discussing the different types of breast cancer and why both men and women should get checked regularly. 

She suggests receiving a genetics test if breast cancer runs in the family. There are certain genetic markers that, if present, can double or triple chances of getting breast cancer. 

Overall though, Pasmore thinks an optimistic mindset is the most important advice.

“One of the best things that could have come out of this is to know how many people care about you, how many people are willing to help, and how many people are going to drop everything when you need something,” Pasmore said.