Notes of a Pam Watcher

Table of Contents
Introduction Before Going Further Background -- Pam and Her Family
Background -- Site Fighters and Ladies' Groups Pam's Story as Fact -- The Discrepancies Pam's Story as Fact -- What is Missing?
How Do You Know Anything is True? Pam's Story as Fiction Is There a Solution?

Introduction

This web site is about events a long time ago. This story began in the year 2000. 9/11 had not yet happened. Facebook probably did not exist or was a site exclusivily confined to students at Harvard. Web 1.0 was in full flower. This story makes me feel nostalgic, but at the same time, its themes and ideas are timeless. We should not forget how fragile idenity is on the net, the fine line between fiction and exploiting an audience, or the fact that members of that audience are both powerful and not able to wreack total havoc. Let the story begin. Pam, if you exist and if you are alive, you are a grown woman now. What you and your family taught me, they can teach others. Best of luck to all of them wherever they are.

By late 2002, I had for the past fifteen months observed and occaisionally played a peripheral role in the drama surrounding Pam Bancroft, then a young girl afflicted with ' cancer whose story existed on the net through pages, graphics, links, and email. The story appeared at first as a prayer request for a young girl desperately in need of a kidney transplant. The father of the girl's name looked familiar. It was Pat Bancroft, with whom I was exchanging votes at the Site Fights and later Avalon Adventure.

A close reading of the letter set off several alarm bells.

  • Why was there a prayer list that prayed for the death of one child so another could benefit by a kidney transplant? I remember discussing this with my boyfriend who is an Old Catholic priest (Matthewsite), and we both agreed that the standard protocol in such a situation was to pray "God's will be done."

  • Why was it so urgent that Pam have a kidney when dialysis could give her months if not years of survival?

  • There was NO mention of Pam's illness on her father's web site. Later a textbook description of numerous operations removing her cancerous womb, ovaries, and kidneys appeared. The website is gone now, so I write from memory.

  • The website included a page called "Coping with Change." I thought the page would be about the trials of widowerhood. Instead it was about menstruation, yet it mentioned nothing of cramps, which are common in adolescent girls and can be quite debilitating. The page was also an odd addition to a site for a man whose daughter would never have another period due to the loss of her ovaries and womb.

  • Why was Pam's family reaching out to site fighters and ladies' group members via chain letters, when there are support groups for parents of afflicted children, and probably for the children themselves? Pat Bancroft was also Rev. Pat Bancroft. Did he not belong to the local clergy association, and what about the local newspaper where the Bancroft's lived?

I discussed these concerns on both the Snopes' Message Board and the message board at F.A.C.T.S. Other members of those boards shared my skepticism.

In the end though I decided to suspend my disbelief and do what I could to support Pam. The family was NOT asking for money, and one of the great things about the net is that one can pretend to be someone else and create a whole new identity. I had nothing against fiction if that was what I was reading. Then again, how did I know that any one on the net was who they really claimed to be. Everyone else gets some benefit of the doubt. Why not give Pam and her family the benefit of the doubt as well?

UNFORTUNATELY THAT HAS CHANGED. Fiction is one thing. Incurable illness, violent crime, death, or a request for funds are another. We may weep when a character in a novel dies, but when a real flesh and blood human leaves us forever, the grief is far more poignant and real, even if we have only known that person over the net. Grief of this kind is something we should reserve for real human beings. In the fall of 2002, I learned that Pam was dying. That is why I would like all of us to take another and very close look at Pam's story, and make up our minds for ourselves what we believe.


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Before Going Further

If you were or are a supporter of Pam, this page may make you quite angry. If so, please ask yourself why you feel so angry. If you worry that someone might want to verify your existence when you ask for a favor, read the section How Do I Know If Anything Is True on the Web?. Ask yourself where you go for help and support on the web and in real life. Chances are you will find that your own story is quite different from Pam's.

If you come from outside the milieu where Pam's story is well known, you will still find much of the social background against which this takes place strange. If you remember this story, it will make you nostalgic. Either way, read the section on Background -- Site Fighting and Ladies' Groups to get a feel for the world in which this story has unfolded.


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Background -- Pam and her Family

The details of this story come from Patrick Bancroft's now defunct web page and from personal correspondence with Reverend Patrick, Pam, Joey Bancroft. Pam if she is still alive was born nearly twenty-two years ago to the Reverend Patrick Bancroft, a Baptist minister who was at the time a stay at home dad. Pam was his only biological child. Her mother died when she was two of reproductive tract cancer. Patrick Bancroft also had custody of two of Pam's cousins, Tim, who was highschool age and Joey, who was in fifth grade.

Some time after Pam's tenth birthday, when she had menstruated for a few months, Pam was diagnosed with cancer of the ovaries, uterus, and cervix and bladder as well as the kidneys. This was stage IV cancer. The doctors took out most of Pam's reproductive organs but spared the bladder. They also took out her kidneys. I am unsure of the dates of the surgery. By September prayer chainletters asking everyone to pray for a kidney to become available appeared.

By November of 2000, Pam had her kidney, via a donation by Joey, her cousin, then age either eight or nine. I think I may have had a hand in this turn of events because I suggested to the woman who sent me the prayer chain to tell others about living kidney donation.

Pam appeared to recover from her surgeries and returned a bit to web site competitions. I continued to support Reverend Bancroft at the Avalon Adventure and he supported me at ZOID CITY. In addition both Joey and Pam fought at ZOID with fairly good results.

Toward the beginning of the summer of 2001, both Pam and Joey's mail started bouncing and their father's web page vanished. Their own web pages vanished shortly thereafter. I can't say that I did not feel a bit relieved. I figured this was the best way for all things to end. Let Pam if she was real get on with her life and deal with what would be terrible body image problems and let the kids go to school and be done with things. Site fighters drift away all the time, especially teenage fighters.

If Pam and her family were fiction, I admired the creators of Rev. Bancroft, Pam, and Joey for allowing the story to have such a graceful ending. He had proven it was possible to create fictional identities with little harm. I wish that the story had indeed had ended here.

Then in late September of 2002, Pam left for a residential hospice where she would be totally out of touch with everyone and will wait to die while receiving palliative care. It was this last chapter that prompted this web site.


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Background -- Site Fighters and Ladies' Groups

I have been on the net since 1984, and the early net and even web world was filled with techies and academics. One signed email with full name and affiliation. Credentials and learning were what carried weight. When high powered desk top minicomputers (Pentiums) and such web site facilities as Geocities and Homestead sprung up, with them came a new sort of net user, ordinary, often working or middle class men and women who did not have the credentials that would sink the table with their weight.

The older net society disdained them and called them the "trailer park of the web." As a response the newcomers created their own institutions and language. The institutions included ladies groups such as LOTH and RAOK. and web site competitions such as the Site Fights. The language on this side of the net was graphic or glyphic with web sites, guestbook pressies and dusting, graphics tucked in email etc.... The web design could often be as good or better than the sparse academic style web pages, since design with heavy bordered sets and graphic elements often provides an environment richer in visual clues. In 200-2002, web sites seldom made use of cascading style sheets, which were in their infancy. Web design can also be unskilled and awful but that is true even among professionals as well.

Site Fighters and those at related competitions still made up a subculture of what I thought was about two to three thousand individuals. A more accurate accounting proved the active site fighting population to be around six hundred in 2003. At the eight or so competitions that allow trading of votes between fighters in 2000, most votes come from the fighters themselves who are trading votes or campaigning. Trading votes is called vote exchange. Voting for a fighter consistently is called supporting her. I have carred a vote exchange list of about twenty-five to thirty fighters at assorted competitions. My own site QC-L Forever! still fights at ZOID CITY Community and Community Competition which I also run, own, and score.

Traditionally vote exchangers require reminders which are daily or weekly letters sent during the fighting cycle. This means that each campaigning fighter has a list of from ten to five hundred other fighters either on Yahoogroups or in her address book. If she wants to disseminate a message or an email forward, she simply has to click on the addresses or send it to her Yahoogroup. Vote exchange means rapid lateral communication. For spreading forwards of any type, including those about Pam, vote exchange lists maintained by Site Fighters are ideal.

As for ladies' groups, these usually offered web boards and a daily or twice weekly digest form mailing list. Members could also reach all other members by submitting a message to these lists. Web 1.0 was quite interactive! The ladies group email lists and boards are NOT email discussion lists in the true meaning of the word. There are strict rules about negative posts and members can not respond to posts placed in the newsletter except in a very limited way. Lack of criticism and the prevalence of "prayer requests" makes these lists fertile ground to spread Pam's story.

Both ladies' group members and site fighters fit a similar demographic profile. They were mainly female (RAOK and the competitions are co-ed), and often lived in flyover country (I can call it that having lived there). They tended not to have finished college, though this was not always the case, and came on to the net in the mid 1990's. Though many worked, a sizeable number are stay-at-home-moms who in the twenty-first century are a rather militant lot, retired, or disabled, women made up the groups. They were also traditionally religious. As a middle aged woman who lived in Columbus Georgia at the time this story took place, and who attends schul regularly, I partially matched this demographic. Having never married, having gotten on the net in 1984, and an MLS were the ways in which I differed from most of my fellow competitors and ladies' group members. I found ladies' groups extremely satisfying and I can not get fighting and administering website competitions out of my system, even in 2011.


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Pam's Story as Fact -- The Discrepancies

If you want an easy answer to the question "Is Pam's story true?" I have none. There are, however, several places in Pam's story where the details depart significantly from the facts of established medical practice and procedure. And yes, I cared enough about the story at the time to make several long distance phone calls and ask what experts I could find.

Kidney Transplant after Malignancy   Pam received her kidney from her cousin, Joey, two to ten months after having her kidneys removed due to cancer. According to Stephen Senecoff MD of West Bloomfield, Michigan, transplant centers in Michgian and northern Ohio require a wait of one to two years. According to Carolyn Johnson, then Coordinator of Renal Transplantation at Emory University: " If you've had malignancy, the minimum wait for a transplant [at Emory] is two to five years."

Informed Consent and Conflict of Interest   Pam received her kidney from eight or nine year old [at the time] cousin, Joey. A spokesperson at Children's Health Care of Atlanta said that her center would NOT use a donor who was so young. Carolyn Johnson, Coordinator of Renal Transplantation at Emory University, said that the use of a pediatric donor, even an older adolescent, "would require a court order." Parents or guardians CAN NOT consent to such surgery due to their implicit conflict of interest. Now judges sometimes do grant such orders because the child donor receives the benefit of the companionship of her sibling, but use of child donors raises legal and informed consent issues.

For more information on children's informed consent please see this website.

Informed Consent on Behalf of Children

For more information on obtaining a court order for a child donor, please see this website.

Ethics of Circumcision.

Most hospice care in California and the United States occurs in the patient's home. According to the latest chapter in the saga, Pam is to be going into a residential hospice and disappearing. According to Elizabeth at Heartland Hospice in Santa Clara, California there are no residential hospices within a fifty mile radius of San Jose, California where I think Pam resides. In any case according to Elizabeth, a spokesperson for hospice in Northern California, "a child would most often be done at home."

Also if the oncology unit at St. Elizabeth's Hospital in Utica, NY, where my boyfriend's mother had several stays, is any indication, visitation hours at the hospice would be liberal, and Pam could receive, phone, FAX, cards, and printoffs of email. In other words, she would never slip into the black hole of a grim institution.


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Pam's Story as Fact -- What is Missing

Quite simply there was no proof that Pam existed in real life. All I had of her existence and that of her father and cousins are now defunct web pages, email addresses, email correspondence, guestbook signings, and graphic gifts. That there was a photograph of Pam that circulated around the net is NOT proof she existed, nor is answered email. One person can after all have more than one email address, and throwaway email accounts are easy to obtain. As for the photo, it can come from a stock file or even be computer generated.

Proof of real life existence would consist of an address. We routinely list real life addresses and phone numbers in the phone book. Of course the address could be a postbox at Mailboxes Etc... or a similar establishment if privacy is a concern. The name of the agency handling Pam's hospice care would also be proof of her existence. The county where Pam died and a bit more information in the event of her death would also be proof and would allow any one interested to obtain a death certificate which is a public document. Those responsible for Pam's story could also have proven her existence by relying on a third party such as a newspaper, bank, or fraternal order. They have chosen to do none of these things. Moreover, a letter sent to Kelyen and forwarded to Pam's father asking for proof received a reply that contained an obscenity.

Another missing piece of Pam's story is lack of local support. In 1996, a young boy in Whitesboro, New York had a brain tumor which required numerous operations and which ultimately killed him. His family worked with a local newspaper columnist to set up a fund and to obtain a used computer for the boy. I tried to donate my computer. Pam's father as far as I know, never went to the local paper, his clergy assocation, the local chamber of commerce, or even those at his church for help. He went to The Site Fights and Avalon Adventure rather than a support group for parents of children with cancer when on the web. Why did he avoid sources of local support?


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How Do You Know If Anything is True? Don't You Trust Anybody?

Yes, it is possible to prove if something on the net is true or at least reliable. Proof may not be conclusive, but one can obtain enough information to give one confidence. Also the need for credibility varies with what the person at the other end requests or wants you to believe. If a person is simply posting notes to a web board or fluffy email, you have little reason not believe them.

Exteremly frequent or poignant demands for attention, exchange of money or goods, encounters with the justice system, death, and probably grave illness increase the need for proof. One can prove one's existence by giving information that links one to real life, an address, phone number, etc.... Think of the last time you bought something online with a credit card. You supplied a billing and mailing address. If you are in a swap group or post card exchange, that group requires a snail mail address because physical items are exchanged. If you are a LOTH member, remember Kringles' Kids and Merry Mailers.

One can also prove one's existennce by appealing to one's own or an outside authority. When the Utica Observer-Dispatch covered the story of the dying boy in Whitesboro I believed the story enough to want to donate my old computer because I knew the local newspaper was a credible authority. When websites about sick children ask for money, there is often an address that is an account at a bank. Again banks have authority. Make a Child Smile is a good example of a third party that guarantees the truth of the families' claims. When an academic writes a research paper and publishes it on the web she includes not only her name but her professional affiliation, meaning the institution where she works. Her credentials as a researcher put credibility behind her results. Lawyers, doctors, professors, and even librarians all have access to this form of authority.

Finally, one can limit the support available, and dispense with proof. This is how Angels of Kindness at RAOK worked, and how support requests at RAOK still work. Support came guestbook signings or e-cards only, and these days as messages on a Facebook wall or private messages on Facebook. There were and still are no requests for money and no ongoing committments.

If you think of the last time you asked for help online, chances are you either provided some verification information or were willing to accept only limited support If you had a relative in prison and wanted her to receive letters, you gave the name of the facility and even her number. If you wanted your grandmother to receive snail mail birthday cards, you gave her name and address or your name and addres and agreed to pass them on. Joshua's Story was an example of a site that offered verification including the hospital name and the name of the physician who operated on the little boy with an injured trachea and laraynx.


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Pam's Story as Fiction -- A Close Read

If one prefers to consider Pam Bancroft's story as fiction, there is still a lot one can learn. At the start of the current century, the Bancroft clan was basically a world in and of itself. The Bancroft's consisted of Rev. Patrick then an unemployed Baptist minister,his nefews, Tim and Joey, and his daughter, Pam. Ms. Bancroft died when Pam was two. She died of cancer of the uterus, ovaries, and possibly breasts. Pam has no sisters and there are no aunts, close female friends, or girlfirends. Rev. Bancroft stated that he was not dating and would never remarry. Pam's own sexual organs were removed due to cancer.

In the Bancroft world, nobody makes love and nobody works for a living. Mothers do not even live long enogh to raise their children. In fact, there are no living women with intact sexual organs. That such a family might actually exist is possible. Truth is stranger than fiction, yet the story as Rev. Patrick told it on his now defunct web page and Pam told it through her letters is so rich with symbolism that it is in and of itself compelling. The asexuality also explains why Pam is dying now rather than growing into an adolescent with severe body image problems. I think the story's psychosexual dimension was one of the reasons I remained an avid Pam watcher even though I had my doubts about Pam's actual flesh and blood existence.


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Is There a Solution?

As I stated way back at the beginning of this page, telling a story or creating an avatar on the web is not a crime. It is fiction with an opportunity for audience participation. When a staged death MAY be a possibility, the story moves from entertainment to exploitation. If one believes that Pam's story or a similar tale may not be entirely true, it is up to you not to be exploited and to draw the line as to how much you want to do in the even of the main character's demise. A guestbook signing probably will not hurt, but is a graphic gift appropriate, and is a whole memorial page going overboard? For others, doing nothing may be what feels right. You need to look at the facts and act as you see fit. No matter what you do, punishing the culprit, will never be part of the picture, nor should it be. Your job is to take care of yourself.

Prevention not punishment is the answer to preventing future Bancroft clans from emerging. The Web 1.0 culture that spawned ladies groups and site fighting, was also a culture that respected nurturing and childbearing. Illness of oneself or one's family members was a way to gain attention via prayer requests. A healthy single, child free male or female had less status than his/her fellow members who had families or who weree caregivers to the sick or survivors of illness themselves. In this atmosphere, it was easy to see why a single man or woman might create a family with a dying child, complete with multiple web sites and email addresses to gain attention. Perhaps if we value single and childless members of our communities more, maybe there won't be any more Pams. If we value individuals for themselves than they won't have to become somebody else.

Note, the 2.0 web world is not that different from Web 1.0, illness still garners more attention than health, and with the spectical of videos such as YouTube, Facebook pages, and online petitions, the opportunity to capture attention often goes to those who can create a crisis. On Facebook "support groups" and pages often spend their time demanding other less sympathetic pages close. I am not sure how to create an environment that values people for themselves in the world of web 2.0, but perhaps the above paragraph may still apply.
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Eileen H. Kramer/ZOIDRubashov/Roanna
ehkuhall7@tacheiru.every1.net
11/2/01
Revised 8/20/11



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