by Marie Prato
Breast Cancer Facts: *One out of every seven women will develop breast cancer *A woman's chances of developing breast cancer increases with age: and *Approximately 200,000 cases of breast cancer will occur in the United States this year.Traits common to breast cancer survivors: *They are well-informed and take control of their treatment *They know cancer is just a symptom and make life-style changes: and most importantly *They have a positive attitude. Marie Prato is a certified paralegal and an author with more than a dozen novels selling on various sites. Most importantly, Marie Prato is a 59-year old woman who, with the continued help of God, is a four-time survivor of breast cancer.
Unfortunately, this year Marie lost her decades-long battle, but her faith and words of inspiration will live long after her and will offer hope to those who must continue the battle, and comfort to their families, friends, and loved ones.
ISBN 1-59431-550-8 Nonfiction / Inspiration / Faith / How-To
Cover art by Marie Prato
Lay hold of the hope set before us;
this hope is an anchor of the soul,
sure and steadfast.
I believe that God speaks to each and every one of us. I also believe that He answers all of our prayers.
When I was a toddler, I prayed that God would stop my parents from fighting. When I was married I prayed that I would have a baby. God didn’t always give me exactly what I wanted. For that matter, the number of prayers not granted far outnumber the granted ones. For instance, my parents didn’t stop fighting until they got divorced. That wasn’t exactly what I had in mind when I prayed for a tranquil home.
Sometimes I didn’t have to wait to know God’s answer was “no.” I would feel or even “hear” thoughts or see images in my mind as I was begging him for help that my prayer would not be granted. Other times I would work doggedly toward a goal, hoping all the time that God would help me only to be disappointed in the end. But even in my disappointment, God was merciful to me. Somehow he would help me weather the storm and not only survive but become stronger in the process. Eventually, I would realize that an obstacle I had prayed to be relieved of was really a blessing in disguise and designed to steer me towards a different and better path.
I also pray to the saints, especially St. Therese, to intercede with God for me. Some of my friends find this unnecessary and say that praying to God is enough. But coming from a large Italian/Sicilian family I know better. Many times during my life I have experienced what could be accomplished by having not only my parents but grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins on my side. If my earthy relatives could help motivate and assist me, how much more powerful are the saints, my heavenly family, in taking up my cause with God.
Many times, as St. Therese had promised on her deathbed, she used human intervention to send me roses as a sign that my prayers were heard and would be answered. And many times I have not gotten roses despite my begging and pleading.
But don’t think because I sometimes feel or even “hear” God’s answers and have been shown many times in the past that his wisdom is what is good for me, that I take rejection lightly or with humble acceptance. Even with all the goodness and love God has shown me I still must be dragged kicking and flailing in the right direction before I once again accede to the fact that He knows the path I should be on.
I also doubt. Not in God or his saint’s existence, for I know they are real. I doubt my worthiness. So even after “hearing” what I should or shouldn’t do, I worry and fret that it was all wishful thinking.
And so it is with breast cancer. I am on a path I have not and would never have chosen. Yet, although there have been many dark days in the last few years as I struggled with recurring breast cancer, I always come back to God, Jesus, his holy Mother, and his saints. For at the end of my path I know they will be waiting for me.
Maybe I should get David a sweater or a pair of pants to add to what I have already bought, I thought as I clutched the hospital gown around me. If only I could win the lottery or sell a novel.
As I daydreamed about winning the lottery or selling one of my novels, I looked at my watch. I had scheduled my mammogram for 9:00 a.m., expecting to be done in a few minutes and then go to the law office where I worked. But the technician hasn’t returned yet. Maybe the radiologist has other mammograms to look at, I reasoned. Maybe there was an emergency. Maybe he just had to go to the bathroom. Fear starts worming its way into my heart and mind. All of a sudden, money and fame mean nothing. Right now, I would trade winning the Powerball for a good mammogram report. Please God, I pray. Not a repeat of 1994.
Spring of 1994
In 1994 a mammogram showed a tumor on my left breast. The doctor urged me to have surgery immediately. I took a deep breath and shook my head. The tumor must have been inside me for some time. A few more weeks while I checked out my options wouldn’t matter.
I prayed to St. Therese, begging God to let the radiologist and doctor be wrong. As I prayed, a peace came over me. “Everything will be all right,” I heard in my mind. Could the doctor be wrong? I took my mammogram to another radiologist. His answer was the same. I had breast cancer.
Sitting in an empty church, I stared at the statue of St. Therese. Again, I heard that everything would be fine. How could everything be fine if I had cancer? Were the doctors and both radiologists wrong?
As I begged for help, I heard in my mind “Does it matter if it is cancer or not if it doesn’t come back?”
For a moment I was stunned. It wasn’t the answer I had wanted or even expected. Yet, as I sat thinking about it, I had to admit that if an operation could get rid of the cancer and if it hadn’t spread and didn’t come back, what was the difference? An image of an apple popped into my head. Once the rotten spot is cut out, the apple is fine.
I had scheduled the surgery. The doctor spoke of removing several lymph nodes to see if the cancer had spread from the tumor. Like soldiers, the lymph nodes protect the body from disease and infection. And like soldiers, they are vital to winning the battles our bodies constantly fight against disease.
St. Therese had “told” me that I would be all right and that the cancer hadn’t spread. I would bet my life on her message. The next day I called the doctor. No longer afraid, I took control of my body. I had refused to allow the doctor to remove any lymph nodes.
As I lay on the table waiting for the anesthesia to be administered, however, I still hoped and prayed that against all odds the tumor was benign.
Afterwards, coming out of the anesthesia, I was told the results of the frozen section. I have cancer! I thought, beginning to panic as the bad news sunk in. Then the image of the apple popped back into my head. The apple is as good as new, I kept repeating to myself. St. Therese said I would be fine.
In 1994, in spite of pressure from the doctor, nurses, family and friends, I had refused all follow-up treatments. Instead of chemotherapy and radiation, I modified my diet and thanked God every day for taking care of me.
In 1996 another mass in my left breast showed up on my mammogram. I went to a different surgeon. He felt a small lump. After setting a date for the surgery, I started a five day novena to St. Therese, asking her to send me a rose if the tumor was benign. On the first day someone sent me a picture of a rose on my computer. During the next few days it seemed like heaven was showering me with roses. During my novena, I also heard in my mind that it was nothing. Nothing? At best, the tumor would be benign. The worst I refused to think about.
On the day of my second scheduled surgery, I donned a gown and waited with David to be called in for a mammogram. After taking the mammogram, the technician disappeared for what seemed like a long time. Nervously I waited for her to return.
“We can’t find it,” reported the technician.
“You can’t find it?” I asked, failing to understand.
She smiled and shook her head. “It’s gone.”
The surgeon confirmed the findings. “Very strange,” he said, shaking his head. “I felt something, didn’t I?”
I assured him he had. But I had felt something too when I prayed. I had felt I would be all right and that this latest “lump” was nothing.
Eight years of clean mammograms proved I had not been led astray by faith in God or his saints. The cancer that had been sitting for so long in my left breast before being removed had not spread and had not come back.
March 4, 2003
That was almost nine years ago.
“Excuse me,” said the nurse, trying to get my attention.
“Sorry,” I said, pulling myself out of the past and back to the present.
“We need to take more slides of your right breast.”
This time I didn’t have long to wait. The radiologist told me that two calcified spots had showed up in my right breast. They were considered suspicious.
March 5, 2003
Insisting on keeping our original plan to go out for David’s birthday, we sat in the restaurant talking about anything and everything except cancer or mammograms. Nothing but the paleness of his face gave away how frightened he really was.
After we got home, I went upstairs to take a bath and change into my pajamas. As I lay in the tub, a frightening thought entered my head. My fingers shook as I felt under my arm. As I probed under my armpit, a lump the size of a small grape moved under my finger.
March 10, 2003
All week at work, with my friends, even at home with my boyfriend, I kept in good spirits. It didn’t matter what the mammogram showed or what I had felt under my arm. Almost nine years ago God had assured me that the cancer in my left breast wouldn’t come back so whatever had shown up in my right breast must be benign. The tumors would be removed or, like the other time, the spots would simply disappear. This must be just a test God wanted to put me through. I had nothing to fear.
March 11, 2003
“Are you sure you had cancer in your left breast?” asked the specialist, peering at us from across his desk.
“Yes,” I responded. “I am very sure I had cancer.” He then asked for the pathology report from nine years ago. I smiled indulgently. The surgeon couldn’t believe that I had cancer in 1994, refused to have my lymph nodes removed, took no treatment, and survived.
David and I followed him into the hall. On a lighted monitor hung my recent mammogram alongside my previous one. Two objects shimmered on the screen. I was then led into an examining room. After examining my breasts and under my arm, the surgeon instructed me to dress and meet him in his office.
“What are the chances that these tumors are malignant?” I asked.
“High, very high,” was his reply.
Feeling as if I had been struck by a car, I scheduled surgery for the following week.
March 12, 2003
All night alternating waves of anger and fear wash over me. God had assured me that the cancer wouldn’t come back. He had lied to me! The cancer had come back.
When I get to my job I tell the attorney I work for that I will be out of work for a few days after surgery. He tells me to take all the time I need. On the verge of tears, I blurt out what is really bothering me. Years ago I prayed to St. Therese and was assured that the cancer would not come back. God lied to me.
“That cancer didn’t come back,” he responded with an attorney’s logic. “This is a new one.”
His answer shocked me. I had taken God’s message to mean I would never have cancer again. Now, I realized God had been specific: the tumor in my left breast had not spread and had not come back.