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Pamela Joseph, who died March 7, received treatment at Johns Hopkins Hospital in 2007. She was part of a clinical trial in which doctors attempted to find drugs to fight cancer stem cells. She was a former Air Force major and flight nurse.
Pamela Joseph, who died March 7, received treatment at Johns Hopkins Hospital in 2007. She was part of a clinical trial in which doctors attempted to find drugs to fight cancer stem cells. She was a former Air Force major and flight nurse. (Doug Kapustin, Baltimore Sun)

Pamela Mattie Joseph, a former Air Force major and flight nurse who became an advocate for cancer awareness, died of multiple myeloma March 7 at her Columbia home. She was 64.

Pamela Howell was born in Waynesville, N.C., the daughter of William Howell, a paper mill worker, and Carolyn Jones Howell, a hospital cook. She was a 1968 graduate of Pisgah High School in Canton, N.C., and earned a Bachelor of Science degree in nursing from Berea College. Family members said she attended a one-room school until the 11th grade.

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She became a public health nurse in Winston-Salem, N.C., and trained as a nurse practitioner at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro.

She then joined the Air Force and became a first lieutenant assigned to a medical unit. She trained in a midwife program at Malcolm Grow Medical Center and at Georgetown University. In 1977, she earned a master's degree from Central Michigan University.

She was an Air Force women's health care practitioner at what is now Joint Base Andrews in Prince George's County and at Eglin Air Force Base in Florida. She learned to fly a Cessna 152. After study at the Brooks Air Force Base School of Aerospace Medicine in Texas, she earned an aeronautical rating of flight nurse and was promoted to the rank of major.

While in the service, she met her future husband, Dr. Malcolm N. Joseph III, then an Air Force captain. The couple courted for four years while Dr. Joseph served as Vice President Walter Mondale's physician for international travel.

After their marriage in 1983, they lived at Robins Air Force Base in Georgia and in Anchorage, Alaska. They moved to Maryland in 1991. Mrs. Joseph went on reserve status and raised her family in Columbia.

Mrs. Joseph served as leader of Girl Scout Troop 535, based at Pointers Run Elementary School. She also was active in St. Louis Roman Catholic Church, where she served as a lector.

In June of 2005, Mrs. Joseph was diagnosed with multiple myeloma, a cancer of the blood plasma cells.

"We were told that Pam had 31/2 years to live," said her husband, who is a retired Air Force colonel and flight surgeon. "Due to new medications and clinical trials, she lived beyond the projection."

Mrs. Joseph raised awareness about the disease and became an advocate for a cure.

"There is a reluctance in the minority community to participate in a clinical trial," said her husband, who is now medical director for CareFirst BlueCross BlueShield of Maryland. "She worked to bridge that gap of trust. She did this with dignity and grace. She imparted hope to many other cancer patients."

She served on the board of the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society's Maryland chapter and made appearances at Light the Night Walk fundraising events. She made a video for the National Institutes of Health and appeared on the cover of a Howard County General Hospital magazine.

Mrs. Joseph was the subject of a 2007 Baltimore Sun article about her cancer and its treatment.

"As her doctors explain it, stem cells are the source of multiple myeloma, a blood cancer the 56-year-old woman has been fighting since 2005," the article said. "Stem cells might also be the reason that the cancer … is incurable."

She was on a clinical trial with Rituxan, a drug The Sun's article said "might target the stem cells involved in multiple myeloma."

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"Who knows? Mrs. Joseph said in the article, "Maybe I'll be the lucky first person."

Mrs. Joseph, who made hats and blankets for the Blossoms of Hope project in Howard County, was photographed knitting while a medical device pumped Rituxan into her veins. At the time, her cancer was in remission.

She was also a member of a support group at the Claudia Mayer/Tina Broccolino Cancer Resource Center at Howard County General Hospital.

A Mass of Christian burial will be celebrated at 11 a.m. Monday at St. Louis Roman Catholic Church, 12500 Clarksville Pike, Clarksville.

In addition to her husband of 32 years, Mrs. Joseph is survived by a son, Malcolm N. Joseph IV of Leesburg, Va.; two daughters, Natalie Zeigler of Fulton and Margaret T. Joseph of Columbia; a brother, William Howell Jr. of the Virgin Islands; a sister, Brenda Shepard of Canton, N.C.; and a grandson. A daughter, Elizabeth D. Joseph, died in 1990.

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