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Son's cancer was her teacher

Pamela Yates appeared to have a platinum-charmed life.

Wife of the Cannonball run-racing buff Brock Yates, she helped bring Hollywood glamour to the historic Village of Wyoming with ventures like the "Cannonball Run Pub," named after Yates' high-grossing screenplay.

Everyone gets a turn in the box, she agrees. "The great equalizer in life is that we all suffer loss," she added. "No one gets out alive."

After her son Sean was struck with a rare form of cancer, a neighbor was overheard to cruelly sniff: "Now they'll know what it's like to be like the rest of us."

Today Yates is philosophical about that snipe: Those who hurt others can be unexpectedly "formative in the building of character and getting perspective," she maintains.

Yates already had learned plenty of lessons to keep her strong through fate's cold winds. "I came to believe that each person I met along the way contributed to the tools and skills I needed to master the trials that life has put before me," the former singer notes in her memoir, "The Gift of More."

She'll speak at 7 p.m Sept. 21 in D'Youville College's College Center, Fargo and Porter Avenues. Her talk is free and open to the public.

Life in Wyoming, Yates points out, provides a contrast to her childhood years. "As the only child of a successful but alcoholic father, I lived with a daily diet of tension and high drama," she said. "I quickly learned the child-of-alcoholic's coping skills."

Yates' coping skills would be put to the test again, when her oldest child informed her, "Mom, they say I have cancer."

"I employed all my faculties to close the compartments in my brain that exposed me to pain and emotion," she said. "It was a skill I had learned at an early age in order to survive my father's alcoholism."

In his last months, Sean desperately longed for a dog.

"If he had wanted an elephant, I'd have found one," his mom remembers. Rufus the puppy joined their family. Even though Sean could barely stay up for more than a few minutes at a time, "he was so excited; each moment of joy was worth everything," Yates reported. "Puppies are great medicine."
"Thankfully, even in dreadful times, we have the capacity to appreciate the beauty and gifts of life," she said.

Sean died at age 27 in 1994 of cancer of the appendix. His mother's memoir is subtitled: "Lessons of faith and love from a life cut short."

And just one of those lessons, she says is that the "best legacy you can give your loved one, family and yourself is the ability to say, 'I did the best, I did all I could for them.' "

Have an idea about a local person whose life would make a good profile or a neighborhood issue worth exploring? Write to: Louise Continelli, The Buffalo News, P.O. Box 100, Buffalo, NY 14240, or e-mail

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