This is my journey through breast cancer

Special to the Lake Okeechobee News
This is Mrs. Pasquarella’s life now, she says. First God, then her husband Tom, and then her children. Pictured left to right are son Vincenzo, Stacy, husband Tom and daughters Gia and Mia.

It seems like it was so long ago, but one thing I can say is that I was able to clearly see how God was moving in every aspect of my breast cancer. For one thing, I was able to start having mammograms at 40, and not everyone has that opportunity. Many of the recommendations imply that the risks may outweigh the benefits, so many insurance companies will not pay for them before 50 years of age. Currently, one in eight women will develop breast cancer in her lifetime. At the time of my diagnosis, my healthcare was completely from the VA, and there was a delay in getting my mammogram of a month or two. That delay was really what allowed them to see the very small mass in my breast — so small that they couldn’t find it on an ultrasound. One or two months earlier, it probably was not visible.

As physician’s assistants, we aren’t really taught that we all have cancer cells in our bodies which when our immune systems work well, kill the cancer cells. That was one of the reasons why they were considering what they call “watchful waiting” which means they recheck in six months to see if it takes care of itself or if it grows. It takes between two to five years, and some say as much as eight, for cancers to grow to a detectable size, so honestly, if they waited, it may have been gone, but I am thankful they didn’t, because this cancer was one of the best things that ever happened to me. It made me really think about life and what is truly important, like honoring God with my life, being the wife and mother God called me to be.

So anyway, they decided to do a biopsy via an MRI, which was a very simple procedure from my standpoint, not painful at all. I recall when the doctor phoned me with the results a few days later, he told me I had invasive ductal carcinoma in situ stage I. I had perfect peace, Jesus was the anchor of my soul. However, I was ready to remove both breasts and do chemo, radiation, whatever was necessary without a second thought. I met with the surgeon who advised me they no longer recommend removing both breasts. He recommended either a partial mastectomy for the one breast with lifetime hormone chemo treatment tamoxifen OR a lumpectomy with node dissection and, if negative, radiation for six weeks with the lifetime hormone chemo treatment tamoxifen. I wasn’t really sure what to do, I thought honestly it was best to just remove the breast and get rid of the cancer. Thankfully, God had already put Dr Armando Santelices in my path. He was the volunteer medical director and my supervisor at Open Hands Health Center where I was volunteering. Little did I know that before he suffered a stroke, he was a renowned breast surgeon. He spent over an hour reviewing all my options which really helped me make my decision to do the lumpectomy instead of removing my breast. He reviewed all the statistics, and they are the same either way. So, within a week, I had my surgery.

I had been a PA for 19 years at that point and know only a medical model. Cancer requires treatment — often including surgery, chemotherapy and/or radiation or you DIE! Any alternative treatments, to me, were foolishness. As a medical person, I could never understand why some people chose not to follow traditional medicine. No one ever really gave me a compelling reason not to. My surgery was quite uneventful, but I spent the entire day at the VA. When I got to the room after check in, the white board had Jesus Loves You written on it. That was like a little hug from God for me. I remember when the radiologist put in the marker wire under the guidance of the mammogram, I asked her if I could pray for her and she allowed me to. I think it made her nervous, because she had to do it twice, but I didn’t mind. I later found out that the first one was correctly placed, it just didn’t look like it on the film, the surgeon had taken it out thinking he didn’t need it. Well, when he removed the one left, there was no mass, so he had to go looking, of course he didn’t tell me that, I read it in the reports. Then I had to get exposed to a lot of radiation as they were tracing the paths of my lymph nodes, to know which to biopsy.

Then I got to see the surgeon. I wanted to ask him if I could pray for him, but I chickened out and just prayed to myself for him. I told him that I had perfect trust in him, and he said that I should. Boy, I messed that up, because my peace came from knowing that I was not really in his hands but God’s hands. Anyway, God knew what I meant. So, after the surgery, they woke me up and sent me on my way. I had very little pain, and recovery was quite easy, I must say. Next was to schedule the radiation, and thankfully the VA was going to allow me to go locally, which I was thankful for. I heard wonderful things about Dr. Kumar and have even met him on one occasion to talk about Open Hands. He is a kind man and, from what I heard from patients, a good and compassionate doctor. Well, once again there was a delay from the VA of about a month, and during that time, God changed my thought process completely. My husband Tom was at a party just two days after my surgery, so I wasn’t up for going. He was talking with a friend who suggested the Hallelujah diet. Tom came home and announced that he thought we should all go on this diet as a family. He recalled a time about 10 years ago when our music pastor had brain tumors that shrunk on this diet and he avoided surgery. He said, “Remember when we said if either of us gets cancer we would go on this diet?” I didn’t remember this at all, BUT, I thought, this would be a way to get him to eat healthier. I wasn’t too keen on it though. It is no meat, no dairy, no salt, no caffeine, no sugar. It is about 75% raw vegetables and lots of juicing.

So…thinking this would be an opportunity to get my husband to be healthier, I bought the book and jumped right in. As I read, it all made sense. They genetically modifiy foods with Roundup in it, and that is what the cows and chickens eat, and these chemicals get stored in our body fat, which breast tissue is made up of. No wonder the rates of cancers just keep increasing. So, we followed it at home for one and a half years. We were very strict with it. As I followed the diet, I was reminded by God’s word that all our days are ordained. Psalm 139:16 “Your eyes saw my unformed substance; in your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there was none of them.” I really began to doubt that I wanted to do radiation or chemo. Understand, both those treatments can cause cancer. I talked with my husband about it and he agreed. If I felt I shouldn’t do it then he was okay with that.

So, I declined my radiation and started the road to becoming a non-compliant patient. This was much to the dismay of my surgeon who personally called me and reminded me that the chance of cure dropped from 90% to 50%. What he didn’t understand, was that he was speaking of man’s statistics, not God’s. If I die because this breast cancer, it is because it is my time to die, NOT because I denied treatment. The only doubts that came to mind was … if I die, would it turn my kids against God, to which I was reminded that I am not responsible for my children’s salvation, God is, and no matter the outcome, I trust His word which says in Romans 8:28….”And we know that for those who love God, all things work together for good, for those who are called according to His purpose.” His purpose is to make us more like Christ. So if I die, it will be for His glory!

It’s been four years this month since my diagnosis. Am I cured? I don’t know; time will tell. Don’t get me wrong, I am not against mammograms, It is what led me to the current journey I am on. It led me to make tremendous lifestyle changes and I removed many things from my life that cause cancer. I no longer use fluoride, avoid chemicals, avoid processed foods, sugar, meat, dairy, etc. For a little while in the beginning, I was kind of becoming a fanatic, and my husband lovingly reminded me that it could become an idol, so I had to back off from many of the cancer cures I was learning about in “The Truth About Cancer” series. I had to remember that it wasn’t these things that were going to cure me, but God.

Now, I just try to treat my body like the temple that it is. I certainly am not perfect; but have changed so much from where I was before. I would never tell a woman not to get a mammogram, I think that women should. I also would never tell anyone not to treat their cancer, I believe that it is a personal choice. Man plans his ways, but the Lord directs his steps. Each person has a different journey in this life. The Bible tells us in 1 Corinthians 10:31 “Whether we eat or drink, whatever we do, do it ALL for the glory of God.” So whichever personal choice you make, pray and see what God has for you to do at this time.

I have a dear friend who has done every treatment offered and she has used each and every moment as an opportunity to tell the doctors, nurses, technicians, therapists, about our amazing God and what He has done for her! What a way to glorify Him!

If my cancer comes back, what would I do? I would have to pray about it, but I don’t think I would do anything. That is why I have only gone for a follow-up mammogram once. And there was so much scar tissue they couldn’t really see anything, they just want to keep rechecking. That’s too much exposure to radiation, which causes cancer so for now I have stopped having them. I have changed my lifestyle completely so it is not like I am doing nothing. I’m sure there are many who think I am crazy, and I am OK with that, I’m just trying to live my life for the glory of God.

Well anyway, several of the reasons why this journey changed my life, are while I was home a lot homeschooling my girls, I recognized our relationships were not that great. I worked a lot while they were growing up; they seemed to resent that I was around more. Our youngest, Mia, knew she was not a Christian. We never told them I would be fine. We always told them the truth which we think is so important, no matter their age. Only God knows when we are going to die, but that the cancer I had was caught early. And when I rejected the radiation and chemo, we explained why. They seemed to be fine with it. One night, however, after we watched a tearjerker with a mom who died from cancer, my youngest daughter Mia (around 11 at the time) had a nightmare about it, she came to our room which she said was locked (we never lock our door), then went to her brother’s (which she said was locked, he doesn’t lock his door), then went back to her room and prayed to God because she had nowhere else to go.

She told Him she was sorry for her sins and asked Him to forgive her and then told Him she did not want me to die. She was different after that. My Son, who is currently not a believer, said the only prayer God ever answered was that I didn’t die of the cancer. We are trusting that God is still working on him.

A couple of years ago, Mia asked me if I died, would it just happen all of a sudden. I felt so bad. I explained that I would slowly get sick and then die and we would know before hand and it would take time. I wish I would have explained it better in the beginning, I didn’t realize she was carrying that weight around. Though, God uses all things for His glory. You never know what kids are thinking.

One other thing I have learned is that the cancer pharmaceutical company are about big money. They are not looking for a cure, they are looking for treatments that are lifelong to make money.

Many times people are dying from the cancer treatments, which can be worse than the cancer. I am very hesitant to donate to cancer societies and such because many of them, especially the Susan G. Komen Foundation, which gives only 20% of donations to research, pays its CEO an obscene amount of money, and they financially support Planned Parenthood. So, I hate the pink ribbon. They dupe a lot of people into donating because we all know many people with breast cancer and we want to support them.

Please do your research before you give your hard-earned money. See who they are really helping and how. Look at their financials. It’s so easy to Google things now.

So, my story, praise God, isn’t over yet, but I am thankful God used my breast cancer to spur me and my family on so that whatever we do we do it all for His glory!

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