Complementary Cancer Care



In Honor of National Cancer Survivors Month in June

Our essay finalists are listed below; the winners were announced at our annual Art & Wine Reception Honoring our Local Cancer Survivors. The finalists read their essays during this event and their essays will be published in Brevard County local newspapers Florida Today and Hometown News website.

Essay Finalists – click on their name to view their essay.

1st Place - I CAN BE CALLED A CANCER SURVIVOR, by Toni Shifalo, age 76, Titusville, FL


by Toni Shifalo, age 76
Titusville, FL

I can be called a Cancer Survivor, but I felt I was a Cancer Fraud.

I never was sick, never felt bad for long anguishing lengths of time not knowing what was wrong, as so many cancer patients are. No, I was healthy in July 2021, out bowling eating pizza, yet the next two days of agonizing constipation sent me to the ER. Two more days of poking, prodding, picturing and I had surgery to remove 11 inches of my colon and some cancerous lymph nodes. I bounced back from the surgery, despite my age. So, 7 or 8 days of being a “Cancer Victim” to being a Functioning Person again, not much pride in surviving that.

When I felt totally fine again it was time to start the rounds of chemo, a week on, a week to recover and then back again. Even as my hair began to thin, I felt good enough to continue my life as though the chemo and its several days of feeling totally sick & worthless were a minor inconvenience. Because I suffered only a few effects that most chemo patients have, I felt guilty sitting in the chemo chair surrounded by others who were truly suffering—a Cancer Fraud.

Toward the end of the third month of chemo, my mouth was completely useless for eating, my appetite was gone, food tasted weird and bad anyway, and I had days of running (well, hobbling) to the bathroom for false alarms or unexpected results.  This was the direct effect of the chemo which was killing me more than the cancer. I felt I was not only a Cancer Fraud, but a Chemotherapy Victim.

My oncologist decided the chemo was enough, he had already stopped the drug which was causing slight neuropathy. Blood tests came back negative for cancer, so I rang the bell and ended the chemo. A Cancer Survivor? —no a Chemo Survivor.  I still felt like a cheat on the cancer scale compared to stories from fellow patients.

My hair filled in, my mouth healed some, I was enjoying the positive effect of the surgery & chemo: I lost 50 pounds and could wear all those clothes pushed to the back of the closet. When friends complemented the weight loss, I felt fraudulent about that too: instead of the starvation of dieting and effort at the gym, I had surgery and couldn’t really eat for three months. No pride in that effort—a Dieting Fraud.

Coasting into my one year follow up colonoscopy in 2022, I had a minor setback with an infection related to the colon which required a quick surgery and a few days in the hospital. Instead of feeling “oh woe is me” I was terribly inconvenienced and had to reschedule the colonoscopy.

After the colonoscopy the Doctor knelt beside the bed and took my hand to say he was sorry to tell me he found another tumor. “How can this be? What are you doing?” my oncologist says to me. “YOU tell ME.” I said to him as he ordered more tests.  We set another surgery date in November just after election day so I could work the polls as I have for every election for years. Then Hurricane Ian came our way, so the surgery was postponed.

That surgery required a radical hysterectomy to enable a clear view of the new tumor as it was in a critical area. I worried more about the hysterectomy than having another cancer which had gone undetected in the blood work. Not a Cancer Victim but a woman, an old one at that, having Serious Woman Surgery.

I bounced back from that surgery too. This time the surgeon believed he got the entire cancer, so no chemo was recommended. The oncologist took the Signatera test on the second tumor and we waited for the results to proclaim me a Cancer Survivor. Well, long story short, the lab was confused, sent wrong test results, and the insurance refused to pay for the test again. So I’m in limbo now waiting to see IF I am cancer free or not.  I feel fine, so to be labeled a “Cancer Survivor” feels un-deserved.

Somewhere in this journey, I discovered Complimentary Cancer Care, and attended several activities where I met and talked with others on the cancer spectrum.  That’s when I really began to feel a Cancer Fraud.  My illness had been so mild, my surgeries so simple, my chemo so brief, my insurance problem seemingly surmountable compared to others, the sympathies and empathies I received made me feel such a Cancer Fraud.

Then CCC offered a course for Cancer Survivors based on a text “Picking Up the Pieces, Moving Forward After Surviving Cancer”.  I went in feeling it was fraudulent for me to claim Survivorship—after all, what had I done as all this happened to me.  This course opened my eyes to how much denial I had shrouded my being and feelings with. Through our conversations based on prompts from the book, I came to the realization that each cancer patient has a unique journey yet every one of us: Cancer Patients, Cancer Survivors, and Cancer Caregivers is undergoing a challenge that we have to meet or die, and there is no fraud, or failure, for anyone experiencing these challenges as cancer and chemo and surgeries are real, have life altering effects, and demand real action.

So, I stand before you today to claim my place as a Cancer Survivor, to this day at least, and to thank my surgeon for being so skilled, my gastroenterologist for his sympathy, my oncologist for his empathy, but most of all, Complementary Cancer Care and my fellow Cancer People for their understanding, compassion, and unrelenting love and help in all stages of our struggles with this dis-ease.

2nd Place - A DAY CAN CHANGE YOUR LIFE, by Carmen Acevedo, Cocoa Beach, FL


by Carmen Acevedo
Cocoa Beach, FL

On August 31, 2022, my husband underwent an operation to remove a tumor from the right side of his face.  During the operation, the facial nerve was cut, and we learned that my husband would suffer from facial paralysis for the rest of his life as a result.  He was also diagnosed with Lymphoma.  In the months following the operation he had chemotherapy treatments, developed complications from the chemo that we’re still in the process of addressing, and is facing more surgery, this time plastic surgery to restore symmetry and possibly some function to the damaged side of his face.

During the months following the operation I, or others close to me, have seen me change – some days the changes are minimal, hardly noticeable, other days the changes seem so dramatic that I have trouble recognizing myself.  I’ve become hypervigilant, watching my husband for any sign of distress or illness.  I wake up in the middle of the night to see if he’s still breathing, thinking of a doctor’s appointment I forgot to make or an insurance authorization I need to follow up on.  Our relationship has changed as well – my husband depends on me to help him navigate his medical care and I find myself doing more things alone or with friends because he’s tired or unable to do most activities.  We have been, individually and as a couple, undergoing a transition.

I am sad a lot of the time, more reclusive, talking to or seeing others some days feels like a chore.  I also feel angry that this happened.  It’s been almost a year now and I realize that I have been, and still am, grieving the way things were, the life we had and how easily I laughed.  I have also begun to realize, however, that this process isn’t all about losses, that there are gains as well.

I now take time for myself most days, especially when I think I can’t or shouldn’t.

I have learned who my true, closest friends are – they are the ones that take care of me without asking – I’ve learned there’s very few of them.

Adapting to my “new normal”, as I call it has brought new people and activities into my life that have enriched it.  And that I would not have pursued except for cancer entering my life.  Complementary Cancer Care is a perfect example.  Through this organization I have met other caregivers who are struggling with similar issues as me and I am receiving the support and resources I need not only to adapt but to also learn and grow from this experience.

Through what I’m learning I am able to help others facing similar challenges and this reinforces my resolve and solidifies my growth.

I’ve become better at speaking my truth and asking for help when I need it, although this continues to be a work in progress.

I am finding things to be grateful for every day, even when so much of what I loved about my life has been taken away.

The changes brought about by the unexpected appearance of cancer in my life have been unwelcomed and painful, but I have chosen to embrace them and, as I let go of my attachment to the way things were, I can see that these changes can be enriching as well and I am grateful for this realization.

3rd Place - CANCER JOURNEY, by Walt Spann, age 66, Melbourne, FL


by Walt Spann, age 66
Melbourne, FL

My cancer journey began at the age of 6 with an intussusception of the intestine.  This led to the discovery of swollen lymph nodes that turned out to be lymphosarcoma.  That was 1963.  After a resection of half my colon, 25 rounds of radiation (Cobalt 60) , Cytoxin chemo and many, many prayers, I defied the odds and kept on truckin’.  Didn’t know the docs gave me three months to live until I was 32 when my mother told me the story.  At six, you really don’t know what’s going on other than “it hurts” and that you’re getting poked with needles all the time.  At ages eight and eleven, the abdominal pains started again which of course frightened my parents but as it turned out, it was due to adhesions.  No laparoscopy back then, so it’s two more big incisions on the belly.

Years passed and all was well until, at the age of 29, my heart would start racing for no reason and I felt quite weak.  After laying off of racquetball for several months, I attempted to start back but after five minutes of play, I was doubled over and light headed.  A trip to a walk-in clinic revealed that I was grossly anemic.  From there, it was on to a heart specialist, since my heart was acting up.  Well, he immediately indicated it was not my heart and sent me over to a GI doc.  Suspecting a bleeding ulcer,  an endoscopy was set up.  I was actually hoping that it turned out to be just that, an ulcer, because I had a feeling that if he found nothing, he would want to explore the other end of things with a colonoscopy.  This may bear a more ominous outcome.  Well sure enough, the endoscopy proved nothing so it was on to the exciting colonoscopy prep.  All day drinking “Go-Lightly”.  A salty liquid that was only bearable chilled and mixed with Gatorade.  The doc prepped me with Valium and Demerol for the look-see and there it was; a malignant cancerous tumor; adenocarcinoma of the colon.  Four days later, I was in surgery with a really good vascular surgeon.  The other half of my colon was removed and a catheter was placed directly into my liver for seven days of chemo called 5FU.  This is where colon cancer will typically metastasize. At age six, your spiritual side hasn’t really been awakened, but at age 29, the Lord truly got my attention with this.  All three doctors attending to me gave me a 20% chance to live 2 years and an 8% chance to make it five.  They told me to go do whatever it is I always wanted to do.  Upon hearing that, my folks, who had been with me through the entire ordeal, were ready to fulfill my wishes.  What loving folks I had.  For some reason, from beginning to end, I never felt anxious, afraid or anything like that.  Total acceptance.  God had gone to work on me for he heard a lot of prayers from people I knew, people I didn’t know and entire churches of friends of mine from work went to had lifted me up.  At one point, I felt myself being healed and witnessed by my folks and the guy in the next bed.  Didn’t really register with me as to what was going on until later.  My pathology report did not come back for days which was quite unusual.  When it did, the doc said they had never seen cell formations like mine and weren’t sure what to make of it.  We he told me my odds just went up to 80%, the tears started to flow.  Six weeks of recovery, I was back at work.

Fast forward 31 years and many kidney stones later (you get frequent stones with something called shortened bowel syndrome), I had a little blood in my urine.  Thinking it may be from yet another kidney stone getting ready to pass, I ignored it.  Not a good idea.  Two months later the blood was worsening so it was a trip to the urologist for a look-see in the bladder.  There he discovered a cancerous tumor about the size of your thumb.  Initially thinking he got it all, the pathologist report indicated it had just broken through to the muscle tissue which is not what you want to hear.  This time it was three rounds of four types of chemo; the protocol.  Not fun.  I could write several paragraphs on that experience.  A urological surgeon in Tampa wanted to remove my bladder, prostate and ureter and fit me with a bag.  Prior to going to see him, I had the same feeling I had when I was healed from the colon cancer and felt I was healed yet again.  Armed with that, I politely told him that I would pass on the surgery.  Didn’t make him too happy.  He did have a look into my bladder while I was there (without going into detail, humility goes out the window during this procedure to say the least).  I was watching the monitor as he probed around and saw that the bladder wall was in perfect condition.  No sign of anything.  However, eight months later he discovered I had prostate cancer which I still have to this day.  Just keeping an eye on my PSA level and twice a year checkups from the urologist.

What I’ve written is a brief summary of all that I have been through, but you get the gist.  There is way more to talk about in all realms of my cancer journey; medicinal, spiritual, nutritional.  I’m grateful to God, my wife, family, friends and all the doctors and nurses who have looked out for me.  I have learned so much and am still learning about this disease and how amazing our bodies are.  Remember Psalm 139.14, “You are fearfully and wonderfully made“.

To read all of the submitted essays from our brave cancer survivor & caregiver writers, click on their names below.

MY LUCKY CHARM, by Christina Tecson, age 46, Rockledge, FL


by Christina Tecson, age 46
Rockledge, FL

This essay was written in 2016 when I was newly recovered from cancer at age 39.  This year I post this essay in honor of my dad, who passed away from cancer in October 2018.  He cared for me when I went through breast cancer as a young adult, and I was honored to later help care for him.  Thank you, dad, for all the life lessons you taught me and all the ways you showed me unconditional love.

In May of 2015, I followed an impulse in my heart to adopt a 4-month-old puppy. My family had a dog growing up and I knew I wanted to own a dog “someday”, but I always thought that would be when I felt more established in life.  However, at 38, I wondered how “established” I would ever be and if I was aiming for a moving target.

There were many reasons NOT to get a dog then, knowing the time and commitment it takes to train a puppy. But he brought so much joy to my heart when I held him.  And the brief moments playing with him—how they made me laugh and smile—I knew I needed that in my life. I mentally listed all the practical reasons it was not a good time for a dog, but the only thought I fixated on was, “Why not?” I listened to the intuitive feeling that this little creature was supposed to be in my life, trusted my heart, and brought him home.

Three days later I was diagnosed with breast cancer! If having a puppy wasn’t going to overburden my life, this disease would.

The name the shelter assigned to the dog was Lucky. I originally intended to change the name to something more unique, however after my cancer diagnosis, no other name seemed appropriate. He was meant to be my Lucky charm.

Why is it that one year later when I look back at the bleak moment when the nurse told me to prepare for my diagnosis . . . I can laugh at my ridiculous reaction of shock and denial? But when I replay the phone conversations I had breaking the news to my closest family members . . . I cry? I was strong suffering through the cancer hardships, but knowing my pain also hurts those I love, that is a somber thought.

The doctors already knew from my mammogram and ultrasound images that I had cancer.  My parents immediately booked a flight from their home in Florida to be with me, at my home in California, as I learned all the details of my pathology and treatment plan from my oncologist. Cancer had already spread to my lymph nodes–I didn’t even know what a lymph node was.

My parents stayed with me for the next six months while I braved through chemotherapy, recovered from surgery, and started radiation treatments. They drove me to chemotherapy. My mom helped me pick out wigs and head scarves. She cooked me meals after surgery. My dad carried my groceries when my arms and chest were healing. They accompanied me to every doctor appointment and provided me with sound advice when I wasn’t in the frame of mind to be reasonable. They showed their love by doing everything the caregiver of a cancer patient is expected to do in the ways only parents can.

However, they also demonstrated their unconditional love for ME by caring for Lucky. When I was too exhausted to play with my energetic puppy, my dad ran up and down the street with my dog to tire him out. When I needed to bunker down in my bedroom to rest for two days after every chemo session, my parents kept Lucky entertained in the living room. My dad took Lucky outside for bathroom breaks every few hours on schedule to house break him so that I could conserve my energy. When Lucky faltered from his routine leaving piddles on the carpet, my Dad cleaned up after him so I wouldn’t be exposed to the germs with my low immune system. When I had a full day of medical appointments and treatments, my dad drove home to let the dog out, then back to the hospital to be with me.

Even my pragmatist mom came to enjoy Lucky’s company and see the blessings of a dog. When I talked to my mom on the phone the day I brought Lucky home to tell her she had a “grand dog” she initially thought I was joking because, in her words, “Why would you do something so silly?” However, while my mom was staying in my home, she never suggested I return Lucky to the shelter to focus on my own health, or that my illness was preventing me from taking care of a new puppy. She could have easily made the argument that she and my dad were there to take care of me, and instead spent more time caring for my dog. It was the truth–I WAS leaving my parents to do most of the work. The suggestion to return my dog was never proposed because they knew that Lucky, in his own unique charmingly mischievous way, was comforting me through my cancer treatments. The frustration over Lucky’s housebreaking habits was the welcomed distraction I needed to stay light-hearted about my health crisis. His constant nipping at me, signaling he wanted to play, was annoying when I was low energy, but it also motivated me to stay active. Fussing over Lucky gave me somebody else to focus on instead of my own sorrow.

So much of my cancer treatment plan was not within my control or the well intentions of my parents. I was left to the expertise of my doctors and the mercy of God to declare me cancer free. But having Lucky there as the newfound comfort in my life seemed to soften the harsh reality of an uncertain future.

There were many emotion draining moments of my cancer experience, but the moments that poured joy back into my heart are those that centered around the new edition to my family and the love my parents developed for my dog.  They came here to take care of me, but their care giving experience became a partnership in raising my puppy.

My parents have returned to retired life in Florida, and I am getting back to my old life . . . before cancer changed me forever. But I also realize I don’t want to be moving so fast I forget where I’m going. I don’t want to get stuck on a road to nowhere. Cancer has opened my eyes to live a more purposeful life and live in the moment.  And the most welcomed change, amongst a flurry of new healthy lifestyle changes and obsessive “is this symptom cancer“ thoughts, is having a canine best friend by my side. Lucky was taught well.  His duty as a dog, especially now that I live with the ambivalence of cancer, is to calm my anxieties and to energize me to be bolder than my fear of cancer recurrence.  Surely seeing my parents by my side and being a recipient of their unconditional love influenced his senses.

I KNOW A LOT ABOUT SKIN CANCER, by Paul Barton, age 87, Melbourne, FL


by Paul Barton, age 87
Melbourne, FL

I am 87 years old, and an Air Force Vietnam Veteran.  I’ve had some form of skin cancer since 1973 when I returned from a tour of duty in Vietnam and Thailand.  In 1973 I went to my military doctor to complain about my skin which was itchy, dry and flaky.  His response was to just put lotion on your skin, and it will go away.  Well, it didn’t go away.  When I was relocated to another Air Force Base, I saw a local primary doctor who recommended that I see a Dermatologist immediately, because it was obvious that I had several skin cancers.  In 1983 through 1990 I went through a full-face treatment for skin cancer as well as other cancers over my body.  In 2008 and 2012 I was treated for squamous cell cancel on my forehead, upper arm, and chest. In 2012 my Eye Doctor saw a small rash on my eyelid and recommended that I have it evaluated and a biopsy at Bascom Eye Institute in Miami.  They discovered that it was cancer and then sent me to the Sylvester Cancer Center to evaluate further. MRIs & CTs revealed the cancer had spread to the left side of my forehead and there was a need to completely replace the skin from my eyelid to the top of my head.  The surgery took 12 hours to complete by removing skin from my leg to my arm, from my arm to my face.  In the process they discovered that the cancer had spread to the back of my eye.  Believe me it was not pleasant!!  MRIs & CT scans for the next two years.  The result of this cancer is that I can’t fully close my right eye and requires medication every night.  The next recommendation was 35 days of radiation for the cancer behind my eye.  My last cancer treatment was in 2022 with cancer on my nose.  So yes, I know what it is like to have skin cancer….I hope no other individual has to go through what I have, but I have survived!  Use sunscreen when outdoors and caution in looking for any unusual skin changes.

NEVER LOSE HOPE, by Ruth Ceike Meier, age 94, Melbourne, FL


by Ruth Ceike Meier, age 94
Melbourne, FL

Between 1955 and 1960, my husband worked for a company which sprayed the foliage under power lines using something similar to Agent Orange.  By 1982 he was diagnosed with Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma.  Although the doctors only gave him a few weeks to live, they tried a new technique using a pump installed under his skin on his chest. Through this they were able to inject chemotherapy every 3 weeks.  We lived in upper east Tennessee at the time in our dream house, underground and solar passive.

Luckily I had accrued enough time at my job to take early retirement, as we had to drive over the mountains to Winston-Salem, North Carolina.

After 4 years of chemotherapy and radiation, the doctor removed the pump but my husband {Bub} had declined considerably by that time.  He died in 1992.

The years in between were sometimes very hard, for example the last time we ever went to a restaurant, he had to go to the bathroom.  After waiting awhile, I made sure no one was in there and went in to find him smeared with feces, unable to clean himself.  I was so ashamed for leaving immediately to get him home.  Then there were the funny times.  My son Randy was wheeling him around a pond in the yard which has a cement walk around it.  One of the wheels started to go over the edge and suddenly Bub was back to his old self, yelling at Randy.  We wondered after that if shock therapy wouldn’t have helped and for weeks after we would tease that he needed another treatment.  We all needed to laugh a little.

There was a book that I found which I recommend to anyone who becomes a caregiver.  It is called “The 36-Hour Day” written by Nancy L. Mace, M.A. and Peter V. Rabins, M.D., M.P.H.

Bub had been very healthy before this, and I believe he might have made it to his 100-year birthday on May 2 this year.  We had bought our property around 1978 and shortly after, Bub was able to retire up there, living in a small trailer on the land.  I had to stay in Melbourne working for Ma Bell until I could get a transfer.  One finally came through for Ashville, North Carolina, 110 miles away.  I took it, traveling home on weekends. Then another transfer came through, this time to Winston-Salem, cutting the distance down to 60 miles.  I still only came home on weekends, but I finally got to Boone, North Carolina, which was close enough to drive on a daily basis.

We were kind of trying to live off the land and had some chickens, a few goats, and 4 young steers.  We had been there a few years when he suddenly couldn’t relieve himself and the next day I found out that his doctor had told him he had cancer.  The next day he was taken in an ambulance all the way to Winston-Salem to the Cancer Center there.  Overnight, Randy had rushed up to help and we were following them all the way.  This was when they installed his pump and started our long trek for the next ten years.  Every week when we went over to the Center, the doctors would ask me “What did he do THIS time?”  His immune system was affected by the chemo and the doctors were worried.  One time he messed with the rooster, and he got spurred, cutting his leg.  Another time he almost cut a tree down on top of our house, even though before this he could put it down on a dime.  A few years later when he was still driving, he started to veer over to the opposite lane.  We managed to get the car off the road, and he said he couldn’t see anything on the left.  So that started his 10-day back and forth trips for radiation treatment for his optic nerves.

Then I had to do all the driving, including the tractor and bush-hogging the property.  The doctors said he had beat the cancer, but by this time, the chemo and radiation had done almost more damage to his entire system.  His legs especially were very weak, but his upper body was still strong.  He made a game of fighting us when my grandson, a big strapping kid about 17 years at the time, and I were trying to pull him up out of his chair so he could go to bed.  He laughed at us struggling with him.  He used to have a pipe in his hands all the time.  One day he was holding it upside down, with hot ashes in it.  As soon as I could I hid it and he never remembered it again.

As I’m writing this, the memories come pouring back, some good, some not so good.  I don’t know how we could have managed if I hadn’t worked for Ma Bell.  My insurance covered most of the bills.  When we finally had to move as it had become impossible for me to handle him when he fell, I was driving down to Florida, following Randy and his wife Barbara, and Bub showed how much he hated to leave our dream house.  He had a little critter I crocheted of an octopus and he was pulling at those tentacles with all his might.  That was the only way he knew how to express himself.  When Randy started building an apartment addition to their house and it was finished enough to push him around the kitchen-dining room floor, he asked me “Where is this place?”  When I explained it, he said “We could LIVE here “, making me a very happy lady.  He lasted another year after that but now I had Randy to help me.  I want to also mention he was on Hospice and that organization is a tremendous help, especially at the end, when they gave me morphine to ease his pain.

MY THOUGHTS AS A CANCER PATIENT, by Vivian E. Hain, age 74, Melbourne, FL


by Vivian E. Hain, age 74
Melbourne, FL

My life has changed
One day to the next
I’m living in increments
It’s about the best…. I CAN DO.

Some mornings are normal
Few and far between
A big everyday adjustment
The future remains to be seen.

My emotions run high
The tears come in waves
There’s no way around
How your mind will behave.

You learn to live for today
The future is now
One foot in front of the other
There are days – I don’t know how.

My head is above water
I’m treading so fast
I reach out for help
There is no one to grasp…

Every case is different
But so much is the same
It’s a navigational nightmare
An overwhelming mental game.

DECEMBER 13, 2022!
I will shout from the roof tops
To all how can hear
2023 will be
A very good year!

I AM A CANCER SURVIVOR, by Alice Napier, age 72, Melbourne Beach, FL


by Alice Napier, age 72
Melbourne Beach, FL

Sadly, there is a long history of cancer in my family.  My maternal grandmother died of breast cancer at age 54.  My Mother had cervical cancer at 34, my father had lung cancer that led to brain cancer and passed at 69 years old.  It was always in the back of my mind that someday I would be hearing the “C” word from my doctor.

But a person is never ready to hear such a diagnosis.  I have always been a good patient.  I have had my mammograms faithfully every year, pap smears every year, physicals every year.  But to quote a TV commercial, “cancer doesn’t care”.  I was diagnosed when I was 69 years old and I was in shock!

I decided I needed a second opinion and I got that at the Mayo Clinic in Jacksonville.  I was impressed with their facility and decided to move my treatment to Mayo.  A biopsy was done shortly, and I was diagnosed with stage 1B Hormone Receptor Positive in Right Breast.  This confirmed what I dreaded to hear and I was petrified of the path I would be taking.  I put my faith to work and knew God had a plan for me.

Everything moved very fast and surgery was scheduled.  I had a right lumpectomy plus right sentinel lymph node biopsy   Two were grade 2 and were removed.  Next would be radiation.  Unfortunately, my body did not respond well to the treatments.  The rays burnt my skin severely and I was in extreme pain from the treatments.  I kept my eyes closed and prayed for strength during each treatment, with the faith that this is what was needed to be made well.  After 36 treatments I was thrilled to ring the bell finishing my treatments with friends and family by my side.

During this time, I was given a book that I read every day on the way to my treatments.  Its title is: Praying Through Cancer. I recommend it to new Cancer patients.  It is a daily devotional & it helped me a lot. The staff at Mayo was very warm, caring and compassionate; I still have follow-up with the Oncologist there.  After my treatments, I attend monthly Zoom meetings to share stories and how different women react to the treatments and medicine. This was a big help and Mayo provides it to their patients. Many of their doctors and nurses were on the panel to answer questions and give recovery advice.

I struggled for months to get the right medication for the cancer treatment. I did finally get on the hormone blocker that works for me and I am doing fine now.

This whole experience has made me stronger, more humble, and more positive in my outlook.  My faith helped me through the months and I do not take life for granted anymore.  This has made me realize that everything we have in life is a gift from God.  I feel compassion for others, appreciate every day, and I am committed to do the best that is in me for me, my family and friends, and kindness to strangers.


EXTREME WIFE, by Alma Ghezzi, age 58, (husband age 55 at diagnosis), Melbourne, FL


by Alma Ghezzi, age 58, (husband age 55 at diagnosis)
Melbourne, FL

Let’s start by saying the word cancer is a 4-letter word not a 6-letter word, if you get my drift.  In April of 2019 the word cancer and caregiver was thrown at me like a lighting strike.  I had no warning as my husband had no symptoms other than a slight headache after doing his favorite thing fishing.  A caregiver is defined as someone who gives care and that label I do not like so I changed it to extreme wife and named his tumor “timmy” as it needed a name to beat it.  The first few days were a blur of forms and appointments and scans.  My thought process was I can fix this and everything will be fine aka denial.

Watchful waiting is the care giver’s job and that is what I did.  I became a nurse, an advocate and researcher anything to beat this demon that invaded our world.  As an extreme wife I never left his side, sleep never came and most days were very maybe get a shower, but afraid to leave his side, oh the anger and frustration came with crying in the closet and praying silently for one more day good or bad.  I did not eat, but gained weight and high blood pressure.  The days and nights ran together and friends are there, but you still feel alone.

A profound hyper vigilance, and all the time I knew… he was going to die, sooner rather than later.  It was as if I believed if I could speed up my care giving it could somehow slow down his disease process. I just wonder if I would do things differently if I knew then what I know now.  It felt as if death was chasing us and I was trying to outrun it.  We choose hospice and a hospital bed, my home no longer felt like a home. My caregiver aka extreme wife journey lasted 6 months, I am optimistic realist, but cancer is not.  I am so grateful I was able to be with my husband at the beginning and end and am still that extreme wife aka widow.

MY LUCKY PENNY, by Rachelle A. Mottle, age 58, Melbourne, FL


by Rachelle A. Mottle, age 58
Melbourne, FL

On July 27, 2017, I found our Chug (a Chihuahua-Pug mix), on Craigslist. It was the best $75 I ever spent! We named her Penelope & called her Penny. Little did I know that come November, I’d need Penny more than anything. I had my annual mammogram scheduled. There was something that they wanted to look at better, so I needed to have an ultrasound done. Then I was told I needed to schedule a biopsy. I had the biopsy done on November 20, 2017. The lidocaine shot and the deep root numbing hurt more than the actual procedure! Thanksgiving was approaching and I was hoping to get the results before the long holiday weekend, but I didn’t. During this whole process, I found myself always waiting. On November 27, 2017, I found out that I had breast cancer.

Since Christmas was approaching, I decided not to tell my family about it until after Christmas. My closest friends and husband were the only ones who knew. I didn’t want to ruin anything for the rest of the family. On January 23, 2018, I had a lumpectomy, which was interesting, to say the least. I had to go to one facility and have a wire inserted. This would help the surgeon know exactly where to cut. Then I went to another facility for a mammogram and then the hospital for the surgery. A dye was injected into the area which turned my breast bright blue! During the surgery, several lymph nodes were removed that were sent to pathology to be checked. I’d know something in about a week or so. (The Waiting is the Hardest Part – Tom Petty)

Once I got home after the surgery, Penny was constantly laying by my side on the couch. She knew something was up and that I needed her. I immediately started taking tamoxifen. I was told that the medication was supposed to keep the cancer from coming back by lowering my estrogen production. I would need to take it for 10 years! Another option was to take an aromatase inhibitor, letrozole, for only 5 years. I was hesitant on taking tamoxifen because a side effect was endometrial cancer. I decided that since I had a fibroid in my uterus that needed to be removed, was 53 years old and not having children any time soon, that I would take the tamoxifen, get a hysterectomy, and then switch to letrozole. I scheduled a hysterectomy for September 2018.

The waiting to hear back from pathology was terrifying. My mind went wandering all over about “what if.” Thankfully, on January 31, 2018, I found out that the lymph nodes were negative. No cancer!

Next, were the radiation treatments. Fortunately, I didn’t need to have chemotherapy. The radiation treatments were Monday through Friday for 33 consecutive weeks. Each session lasted about 15 minutes. At the time, I had a 9-5 job working with one of my best friends and her husband was my boss, who I considered to be my friend as well. I used to work there in 2004 for a few years and I had just rejoined them in October 2016. I was blessed to be going through this ordeal here rather than any other place. I had that “everything happens for a reason” feeling and that I was where I was supposed to be. Every day I would take my lunch hour and run over to the cancer center for my treatment, then eat lunch. Some days worked out that when I get there, I’d go in, get the treatment, and be done quickly. Other days, I’d have to wait and I’d be late in getting back to work. I would make up my time, even though I was told I didn’t have to. Everyone there was understanding and so supportive. My last treatment was April 13, 2018. My wedding anniversary is April 14. Right after the last treatment on Friday, April 13, 2018, Penny, my husband, and I took a well-deserved road trip to Key Largo, Florida. We had a lot to celebrate.

The radiation treatments were horrible. The whole process of walking into a room and undressing in front of the radiation therapists was humiliating. I learned to be very still and hold my breath for long periods of time while the radiation therapists and machines did their thing. By the end of the 33 weeks, my skin was reddish-purple, raw, and oh so painful. I could barely have clothing touch the area. Penny seemed to understand the pain I was in and was so gentle with me.

On September 12, 2018, I had a hysterectomy and then switched to letrozole. The hysterectomy put me into menopause and the letrozole caused joint pain, body aches, and muscle pain, but I really didn’t have many options. I could forego the medication altogether since my recurrence rate was low, but I didn’t want to take any chances. I wanted to be sure I did everything possible to kick cancer’s butt to the curb so that it never returned.

April 13, 2023, was the 5-year anniversary of my last radiation treatment and officially being cancer free. Every mammogram that I’ve had from 2018 until now I’ve worried that I’d have to go through this all over again. So far, I’ve had normal screenings and the worrying has been for nothing. I hope this is the end of my story. I pray every day that I won’t have to deal with this ever again. I’ve heard this called a journey, but I call it a nightmare and I could do without going on this type of journey ever again.

MY JOURNEY WITH ENDOMETRIAL CANCER, by Deborah Meyers, age 72, Palm Bay, FL


by Deborah Meyers, age 72
Palm Bay, FL

“You Have Cancer” can change your whole life.  My story will take you through my journey of this horrible disease.  My biggest fear was, am I going to die?

The world needs to hear my story.  It will take you through the depression, anxiety, fear and disbelief of my new life.  Would surgery, radiation, and chemotherapy cure me, or would I end up saying goodbye to my loved ones?

My journey began in the summer of 2019.  I was 68 years old.  I was driving to my Gynecologist’s office in Melbourne, Florida.  I had been having irregular bleeding and pelvic pain for over one year.   I just had my second D & C operation three weeks ago, which was the reason for my appointment today.   The irregular bleeding every single day was driving me crazy.

I was sitting in the waiting room waiting to be called back to the exam room.  Finally, the door opened, and the nurse called me back.  The doctor entered the room carrying my thick medical file.  She sat down in her chair and looked me straight in the eyes.  We have the results of your D & C.  I am sorry to tell you that you have cancer.  My mouth fell open in shock.  She informed me that I was diagnosed with Serous Carcinoma of the Endometrium High Grade III.  The doctor told me it can attack the uterus, abdomen, chest, and sometimes travel to the bones.  She said it was a very aggressive and uncommon form of Endometrial Cancer and acts like Ovarian Cancer.  She referred me to Dr. Lanneau of Health First Cancer Institute in Melbourne, Florida.  He is a Gynecologic Oncologist who is a specialist in my type of cancer.

My husband, Frank drove me to the Oncologist the following week.

The nurse called my husband and me to the exam room.  After taking my vitals Dr. Lanneau walked into the room and introduced himself while shaking hands.  He seemed very kind, reassuring and brilliant about my type of cancer.  After he examined me, he informed me what he thought my cancer treatment should be.  He said everything was up to me.  He then said he would like to have a total hysterectomy done as soon as possible.  After six weeks from my surgery, he would then schedule me for internal radiation next door.  I agreed with everything he said.  Dr. Lanneau looked me in the eyes and said that he would be by my side throughout my journey.  No medication would go into my body without his approval.  We would become great friends for many years.

My husband drove me to the hospital for my scheduled hysterectomy.  When my doctor came to my bedside the next morning, he told me it looked like an explosion had taken place when he opened me up.  He said he spent over an hour cutting out all the scar tissue from my previous surgeries that had been inside me for more than 40 years.  Dr. Lanneau said my uterus was huge.  It was attached to my abdominal wall and my rectum wall, making my surgery very complex and difficult.

Six weeks later I was sent to Dr. Golden’s Radiation Office next door.  She explained that I would be having three Brachial (internal) radiation treatments.  She was very kind and explained everything that was going to happen.

Twelve days after the radiation ended, Dr Lanneau called me at home.  He said that he had been going over my records and thought it was in my best interest to get six chemotherapy treatments.

I had to get a port surgically inserted under my skin in my upper chest wall under my collar bone.  This is how I will get my chemotherapy.  A needle will be inserted into the port which is a small round disc made of plastic.  A catheter connects the port to a large vein in my chest.  The nurse can now insert a needle into my port to give me chemotherapy treatments.

At my first chemotherapy appointment nurse Darlene welcomed me and told me to pick out a chair.  The chairs are all recliners.  After I found a chair, the nurse came over and sprayed some numbing medicine over my port.  Once I was numb, she accessed my port by grabbing hold of the rubber disc under my skin, then poked an IV catheter into it.  She then attaches chemotherapy medication to it from the bags hanging from the IV poles.  I would sit there for around seven hours and then my husband would come back and pick me up.  It doesn’t hurt getting chemotherapy, but it is very traumatic to me.  The nurse informed me that my hair would start falling out around my third chemotherapy treatment.

The next day I was sicker than a dog.  I was nauseated and had no energy to get out of bed.  The chemotherapy nurse called me at home to see how I was doing.  I could barely talk.  She said I shouldn’t feel that sick.  She called in some nausea medication and told me to eat small amounts every two hours.  That helped me a lot.

When my next chemotherapy appointment was due, I had to see Dr. Lanneau first.  He said my lab work showed that my white blood cell count was dangerously low, so my chemotherapy appointment was cancelled that day.  It was rescheduled one week later.  After that appointment, my hair started to fall out until I was bald.

I kept receiving chemotherapy until I finished my sixth treatment.  Then I got to ring the bell, signifying I finished all my treatments.

I now realize my life has changed forever and returning to normal can be difficult.  Cancer can be survived.  I was lucky to have such a fantastic medical team.  Remember being a survivor doesn’t mean you’re done with cancer.  Please have periodic screenings.

MY CANCER STORY, by Patricia A. Pascazi, age 80, Melbourne, FL


by Patricia A. Pascazi, age 80
Melbourne, FL

Here is my story.  Nobody in my family has ever had any type of cancer, so when I had my mammogram and when the radiologist told me there was a questionable spot on the scan and asked me to get a biopsy just to be sure, I refused.  Well, nobody in the family has had cancer, so I told myself it was probably calcifications; after all, I’m a senior citizen with no history of the dreaded word.  I had several people come talk to me in a private room, tying to urge me to have this biopsy.  I had one a lot of years ago, and it was NOT fun, so I was adamant about a no-go.  After all, there is no history of this awful disease, so why should I put myself through the inconvenience and pain of a biopsy when it would probably turn out to be nothing to worry about?

I’m sure I was thinking the way that many women think – it can’t happen to me.   But, in a couple of days, I received a call from one of my doctors who asked me to get a second opinion.  Well, that’s not scary, so I agreed.  After the second opinion doctor suggested I do a biopsy, I told him I’d rather wait for 6 months for my next mammogram.  He was a gentleman and agreed that would be okay.

I’m not sure how it happened, or how she got the information, but my gynecologist called me personally at 8:45 in the morning and we talked about the mammogram and the biopsy, and she told me that when the doctor suggests something, you should probably have the test, or whatever he suggests, because they are usually speaking from experience and being careful not to let a patient go without giving good advice.  Well! If my doctor took the time to call me out of blue (to me), then I would definitely expose myself to the torture of a breast biopsy.  I was happy she called and I agreed to get the test.  I did so, and it was not painful and the nurses were wonderful.  It took a while and laying on one’s stomach with a breast through a hole was not comfortable, but it was not a reason to not get it done.

So I had the biopsy, it was relatively painless, and the technicians were wonderful and did everything they could to keep me comfortable.   When I went to see my surgeon for the results, I was not worried.  I knew what the results would be.  But no one can predict what life has in store for them and when the doctor told me it was positive, I was speechless.  So, surgery, radiation, and a whole different outlook on my life was in my future.

I cannot say enough good things about my doctors, nurses, technicians, and my family.  I was taken care of by angels on Earth.  So the moral of my story is to listen to what your doc suggests, don’t think it can’t happen to you, and thank God every day that they caught it early enough and you can have a long happy life because you know you were in great hands during your ordeal.

A SHORT STRETCH OF ROUGH ROAD, by Patricia A Ouellette, age 68, Titusville, FL


by Patricia A Ouellette, age 68
Titusville, FL

Since I was a child, I suffered from a compromised thyroid gland.  Doctors, back then (1960s), didn’t think my problem warranted any medication.  For most of my life, I presented hypothyroidism symptoms but would never receive treatment for it.  My untreated hypothyroidism had a major negative impact on most of my life.

Fast forward to 2010.  In an odd mishap, I sustained a small, painful lump on my neck.

Lucky for me, Capt. Carter, at PAFB, examined me that day.  She found a lump in the area of my thyroid during the examination, and had a scan done immediately.

Things happened SO quickly from that point.  The referral, consultation, more tests, a biopsy, the cancer diagnosis (advanced Stage 2), prep for surgery, and then the operation.  It was a whirlwind of activity that also included breaking the news to family, friends, employer(s), and coworkers.

The prep for surgery consisted of an iodine free diet for 6 weeks.  It was not easy for my husband to make meals for me and adapt them for himself.  I was SO miserable for the last 2 weeks!  It was all I could do to get from the bed to the shower and back and ended up taking Family Leave then as I was unable to drive myself to work any longer.

I did have one co-worker, who I thought I had a good rapport with, approach me and told me that I got cancer because of the poor choices that I had made in my life (diet and exercise were inferred).  I sat there, stunned for a few heartbeats, and then said, “You’ve given me something to think about.”  He seemed quite pleased with himself and left.  3 months later, I read about an appalling outcome from one of his poor life choices.  Apparently, karma never sleeps.

I wasn’t afraid once I’d received the diagnosis.  After all, one brother had recovered from Stage 3 thyroid cancer and another brother recovered from colon cancer.  It was strange that the 3 of us had cancer within 18 months of each other.

While I still deal with minor medical issues, I am eternally grateful for finally getting a diagnosis for my thyroid problem that plagued me all my life.  Now, I also know that I was presenting textbook examples of hypothyroidism for most of my life.  I did get angry about all the physicians that I had seen throughout my life that could never look beyond my being female or my weight to truly listen to me and evaluate my symptoms.  When the technician was doing the thin needle biopsy, he remarked that some of my tumor was so old that it had calcified in places!

After recovery, I returned to work, I shared my journey with anyone that wanted to know and several women went back to their doctors and INSISTED on more testing and . . . surprise, surprise, they DID require medication and/or surgery!

I am hoping that by telling my story, that it will empower others to speak up if they don’t feel like they are being heard by their doctor(s) or are receiving the help they’re seeking.  You have to be your own advocate!  If I would’ve continued tolerating being told that ALL my problems were either caused by hormones or only my weight, my cancer would’ve continued to grow and spread.  I might’ve died had it not been for a female doctor seeing me for a freak accident.  Guess some may say that this might be the proof that God does work in mysterious ways.

Having had cancer changed me.  I came through this experience with new limits as to what I was willing to tolerate in my life, what I valued, and a new Bucket List (that is growing shorter every year).

I would like to acknowledge the people that helped me through my cancer journey.

  • Carter, MD, USAF, a thorough and empathic doctor.
  • James Go, who is an amazing ENT surgeon.
  • Ravi Shankar, with the Cancer Care Centers of Brevard, who took such great care of me, body and mind.
  • Rajesh K. Desai, with MAB, is not only a stellar endocrinologist, but is a warm, compassionate doctor.
  • My husband, Herman, who shouldered the load of taking care of me without complaint.
  • My brother, Tim, who prepared me for my cancer journey and kept my spirits up.
I Am ME, by Lizz Braselton, Merritt Island, FL


by Lizz Braselton
Merritt Island, FL

I am Me, Not my Scars

I am Me, Not my Disease

I am Me, Not a Statistic

I am a Woman, A Sister

A Daughter, Mother

I am all things

Through God’s Strength

Which is Infinite.

I Am Strong

I Am Beautiful


I Am Not My Scars ©

Written for Connie Mann, Breast Cancer Survivor
by EJ Braselton, 3/30/2017

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