'I am living, not waiting to die'

MESSAGE IN PINK: Pam Hermansen, who has terminal breast cancer, has arranged her own funeral and had artist Lyn Taylor decorate her coffin.
MESSAGE IN PINK: Pam Hermansen, who has terminal breast cancer, has arranged her own funeral and had artist Lyn Taylor decorate her coffin.

A Christchurch woman dying of cancer will be buried in a pink coffin decorated with pairs of breasts.

Pam Hermansen, 48, may only have a month or two to live so she is planning a personalised funeral – right down to the hand-painted coffin.

Hermansen was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2006.

Her left breast was removed, but she continued to feel ill and during a routine check in 2008 she was told the cancer, which had spread to her bones and liver, was terminal.

"Then, in February, they told me I had about five months to live," she said. "Well, I'm still going, but it could go just like that. It's a bit unpredictable, but I am living, not waiting, to die."

She said breast cancer had been a major part of her life so she wanted it represented at the funeral.

A builder friend made the coffin from second-hand wood, while another friend, New Brighton artist Lyn Taylor, painted about 30 pairs of breasts.

Taylor described Hermansen as "an incredibly brave lady".

"I started thinking about painting ethereal boobs, but the more I painted, the more realistic they got," Taylor said.

"I wanted to make them subtle, but boobs aren't subtle are they? They need to stand out. They're beautiful boobs."

Seeing the coffin for the first time with its lid on, Hermansen said she "felt no fear".

"When faced with this, there is an inner strength that comes out. I mean, I don't really want to be in it, but I want to raise awareness for breast cancer."

Hermansen's twin sister was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2006, but was now in remission. Their brother died of bowel cancer, aged 50.

"My mother has been by my side all the way," Hermansen said. "She's lost one child and she'll lose me, so I know this isn't easy, but she boxes on."

Friends call the coffin her "sleeping box" and believe the personalised project has helped them accept the inevitable.

Hermansen has had three courses of chemotherapy, tried Herceptin and takes steroids. "I've been pretty good, but I've fought every step of the way."

The Press