MUSKOGEE, Okla. — Muskogee business woman Pam Villines' life has been filled with challenges but none like she said she is facing.
A single mother and grandmother, she has started several businesses and owns and operates Muskogee's Amish Country Store and Restaurant. Several weeks ago, her doctor told her she has incurable stomach, or gastric, cancer.
"I'd thought life was as good as it gets," Villines remembers saying to someone just a few weeks prior to her diagnosis. "I felt like I was living the dream. I have a nice car, nice home, business is good and I have wonderful kids and grandkids. I really felt my life was at a point it was as good as it gets."
She said she has always tried to take good care of herself from a health point of view, too, because she has a family history of cancer. As a part of her regimen, Villines had scheduled her colonoscopy.
Initially, the procedure showed a little inflammation, a tiny non-bleeding ulcer and two polyps, which were easily removed, Villines said. She left her doctor's office feeling confident nothing major was going on.
That feeling took a drastic turn the next day when her physician called to tell her what a biopsy of tissue removed during the colonoscopy revealed.
"He said, 'Pam, I've got some really bad news,’" she said of the call. "Where the ulcer was there's some cancer and when it's where it is, it's really not curable. What they'll want to do is take out your stomach."
He said a procedure could include pulling tissue from her esophagus down to her intestines that would allow her to live.
"That about knocked me for a loop. I just became numb," Villines said.
An appointment was made with a cancer specialist in Tulsa for a consultation.
"He said the cancer was in Stage II and was very aggressive," she said.
The typical treatment is chemotherapy for about three months, then surgery where they take out all of her stomach with a likely extended hospital stay followed by more chemotherapy.
"He said just when you feel like you're getting well they're going to give you chemo again, and it's going to be really tough," she said.
Villines said she has considered herself very religious.
“I’ve been successful with my store, but everything I’ve done here was because God opened doors for me,” Villines said.
Immediately after her diagnosis, she did not want to talk about the situation.
“When I first found out, I didn’t want anyone to know about it,” she said. “I couldn’t deal with it. I had a lot of fear.”
Plus, Villines said there are thousands of people who have cancer, and she wondered why her life and challenges would be any different from anyone else's journey.
"The Lord told me I could either sit at home and feel sorry for myself and cry, or I could go out and get people to pray for me," she said. "And, he said, 'not a few, but a multitude' of people."
She has taken that message to pastors and other people she knows and has shared her journey while asking for the prayers of several congregations.
In the short time since her diagnosis, Villines said she has been anointed, had hands placed on her in healing prayer and had deacons and doctor members of churches praying. Through sharing her cell phone number, (918) 869-7246, she has gotten dozens of text messages from people saying they were praying for her.
"It's just amazing how people have reacted with so much love, including a lot of people I don't even know," she said. "I really feel like God is working in my life."
While Villines does not know what the future holds, she feels her faith will carry her through.
“I look back on how God has orchestrated my life,” Villines said. “I told him, ‘God, I know you’ve always been there for me.’”
She said some people will consider her “crazy and dingy” based on her faith and conversations with God, she said. But those are her beliefs.
“I want to live, I don’t want to die,” Villines said. “I don’t know what direction my life will take, but I have to believe the love and prayers of the people in Muskogee will make a difference.”
If nothing else, Villines said she hopes sharing her story and the sudden turnaround her life has taken will encourage others to appreciate each day they have and to realize in the blink of an eye things can change.
Reach Mike Elswick at (918) 684-2954, @melswickMPhx or firstname.lastname@example.org.