The Demon Reveals Itself

I am often reminded that time really is like sand through an hourglass but especially now as I am reflecting on my father’s first cancer treatment.  I was 23 years old.  I was doing exactly what I should be doing, in a perfect world, I was in college at Winthrop College and having the time of my life and figuring out how one day I would be the ruler of the free world.  OK maybe not the ruler of the free world but I did have dreams and the ambition to make them a reality.  One day, while hanging out with my friends I received a phone call. This one call would unleash the existence of a demon I could never have planned for nor could escape from as it lurked in the shadows of my family and decided my Father would be its first victim. It was my older brother Richard on the other line, yes line because there were no cell phones back in 1973.  I remember his voice being different than the other calls he made to me, checking on me at school.  There was a tone that he only used when he was serious, and he was.  He explained that I needed to come home to Chester, SC because dad was being prepared for surgery, a mastectomy.

18 miles! Winthrop College was only 18 miles from Chester. As short of a trip as this may sound it was the longest 18 miles I have ever driven.  Just as I am often reminded of how fast time goes by this drive was a reminder that sometimes time stands still.  My mind drifted to times past when my brothers and I enjoyed a carefree life as young children and enjoyed spending time with my dad on the Chester golf course in the late 50’s & 60’s.  My dad was a professional golfer and a teaching pro.  So, the golf course was a playground made in heaven for us three siblings, and these memories occupied me on the drive home.  The golf course is not like we know it today, where fancy houses are built all around it and are then called country clubs. No, it was wide open, and we had the freedom to roam, play and let our imaginations run wild. And we did, countless times!

I remember riding with my dad on a tractor checking out the different fairways. Just me and my dad!  Oh, how I cherish these little moments of him and I.  I thought it was fun especially being with my dad on the tractor. I mean not every girl got to ride on the golf course tractor!  It was one of those quiet moments that last forever and can only be shared between a Daddy and his little girl.  Things always got a little more adventurous when we added one of my brothers to the mix of the day. One day Richard and I decided to experiment with being arson’s and we set the dried grass on fire behind the tee box on the #5 hole. We were very young, but we wanted to roast a MoonPie. Have you ever had a roasted MoonPie?  If you have well, then you understand why we thought it was a brilliant idea!  Where creativity was our strength, this was a blatant example of where we could make some pretty bad decisions.  Not the brightest decision we made that day.  I saw my father on his tractor in the distance coming to our rescue to extinguish the fire. Yep, that’s my dad, always my hero.  I guess he figured setting the golf course on fire and seeing the damage it caused was enough punishment for us because I don’t remember him saying too much about it. Of course, Richard may have remembered it differently as there were some perks to being the only girl!

I was coming up on the exit to the hospital.  I remember being overwhelmed with a sense of hopelessness.  As the tears rolled down my face with no end in sight, I struggled with figuring out what I could say to the strongest man I knew.  What could I say to give him comfort and reassurance and hope?  How could I convince him that it was no big deal that he might never play golf again, the life-long passion he acquired as a young caddy at Maidstone Club in East Hampton NY.  How could I convince him that his life is more precious than anything he may lose to save it, even golf.  The anticipation of my arrival to face him was exhausting and I only and a few moments left to decide my plan of action.  I stood in front of his hospital room door, wiped my tears, took a deep breath, and walked in.  I was immediately greeted with his bright hazel eyes and a smile that told me he was concerned.  I scooted the chair next to his bed, sat down and held his hand.  At that very moment, I had no words, holding his hand said enough for both of us for the time being.  We both knew there was the risk to him losing muscle that would prevent him from playing golf. We both knew his life would forever be changed.

When my father returned from surgery, we were elated to find out that the oncologist was able to spare the mussels needed to play golf.  I felt such joy in my heart.  It was difficult enough to comprehend my dad having breast cancer and losing a breast, but it would have been equally as challenging to watch my father to lose the one thing he loved to spend his life doing, playing golf.  The look on my father’s face after receiving the news he could play golf was one of restored hope that he would be able to continue to fight like a champ against this demon called cancer. 

 

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Fundraising Events for Patients – Join Us

Cancer of Many Colors (CMC) is grateful to all volunteers that help raise funds for patients struggling to pay for their basic living expenses.  Without their support and belief in the mission, CMC would not be able to assist those local patients in need.  Thanks to Jerry Smith for hosting the Car Show.

Including, October 18th Jay Criscione & Family Golf Tournament of Hope!

CMC Car Show Flyer 2018_Page12018Jay Criscione Golf Flyer

The Journey Begins

Thanks for joining me!

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Paulette Criscione

Rarely do people stop to think about cancer affecting their family when they are young and healthy. For my family cancer has been a far too frequent visitor. My journey with cancer began in the 70’s.

My name is Paulette Criscione and my family has been ravaged by this ruthless disease. This is my story.

I was born in Chester, SC and grew up with my two brothers, Jay and Richard and both of my parents.  Jay, Richard and I were just a few years apart in age and were very close.

Richard's House (2)
Jay, Paulette, Richard

My family’s first encounter with cancer was in 1976 when my father was going through a quadruple bypass and a lump was found in his breast.  The lump was diagnosed as invasive ductal carcinoma or breast cancer.  His cardiologist decided to forego a referral to a surgical oncologist until he could heal from heart surgery.  By the time he saw an oncologist, it had already metastasized to his lungs and eye.  He was in his late 50’s.   That year at the age of 23,  I took on the role of caregiver to my father. I drove him from Chester, SC to Columbia, SC Monday through Friday for his radiation treatments. This was my first realization that men can get breast cancer.

Johnny
John Criscione

In addition to radiation treatments, he was also receiving chemotherapy treatments in Charlotte, NC. At the time of my father’s cancer, there were no clear treatments for men diagnosed with breast cancer, no books available with information, no cocktail remedy’s offering a cure. Nothing was available to offer any hope of living.  At the age of 25,  I moved to Atlanta to support my father and his continued treatments.  I traveled many weekends to sit by his side to let him know how much I loved him.

                         Men Get Breast Cancer

awareness cancer design pink

After several years in Atlanta, I received a call from my gynecologist informing me that my pap smear showed suspicious/abnormal cells and they needed to do more testing. At the time, my father was still going through chemo treatments and I was reluctant to share this news since he was fighting for his own life. After a lot of consultation and consideration, the doctor suggested that I have a partial hysterectomy, a surgery that would end any hopes of having children in the future. It was an emotional decision, but one I made to ensure that I would not be facing cancer in the future.   I had just turned 28 in January of 1981 when I had the hysterectomy and my father died 9 months later at the age of 63.

In 2004, I had an opportunity to move from Atlanta back to my home state of South Carolina.  I was so excited to get back to my family and spend time with my brothers and mother.

In February 2005, four months after my return to South Carolina and four months after having a breast exam and mammography, I found a lump in my breast and was diagnosed with breast cancer.  It was determined after the lumpectomy there were 3 types of cancers in the lump, invasive ductal carcinoma, invasive papillary carcinoma and, DCIS.  I was diagnosed with triple negative breast cancer. These negative results mean that the growth of the cancer is not supported by the hormones estrogen and progesterone, nor by the presence of too many HER2 receptors.  Treatments started right away with 8 chemotherapies followed by bi-lateral mastectomy, reconstruction, continued check-ups and scans.

BRCA

Because my father died of breast cancer I was tested for a genetic mutation. It came back positive for BRCA 2, meaning I’m genetically predisposed.  BRCA 2 patients are at higher risk than the general population of developing breast, ovarian, pancreatic and other cancers. Through the genetic evaluations, it was concluded that the mutation came from my father’s side of the family. This information confirmed that my choice to have a partial hysterectomy in 1981 may have saved me from a diagnosis of cervical or ovarian cancer.

My brothers were also tested for the mutated gene. My older brother Jay tested positive,  Richard negative. After my breast cancer diagnosis in 2005, Richard, my youngest brother was diagnosed in 2006 with Acute Leukemia, and 3 months later Jay was diagnosed with throat cancer. On several occasions when I was with Richard the conversations concerned money and the exorbitant costs of treatment.  The hospital was requiring $100,000 up front for a bone marrow transplant if Richard could survive the extensive chemotherapy treatments. Richard was preparing to fight the biggest fight of life to save his life.  It was difficult to watch him struggle through treatments that we hoped would save his life. I did not want him to worry about the costs, but to focus only on getting better and surviving his battle with cancer.  I would raise the money.

leukemiaRichard fought a determined and hard battle with leukemia but was unable to beat it.  He died on August 6, 2007, at the age of 56.

Jay, my oldest brother, after surviving his diagnosis of throat cancer was diagnosed with bile duct cancer in March of 2009 and died 4 months later at the age of 61.  The deaths of my brothers were only two years apart.  Within 28 years my two siblings and my father were taken from us by cancer.  Cancer had shown my family no mercy.

In 2011, another interruption from cancer invaded my life.  I was diagnosed with lung cancer but fortunately, the surgeon was able to remove the lung nodule.

Cancer has been an unwelcome visitor in my life for 40 years.  In 2012, after experiencing so much sadness and loss from this horrific disease, I created Cancer of Many Colors which was approved for a 501 (c) (3) status in 2014.

CMC was created to honor my family and to help raise funds to support local cancer patients struggling to pay for their basic living expenses.  Each type of cancer has a color associated with it.  My father, breast cancer (pink), Jay throat (burgundy/ivory) and bile duct (kelly green), Richard leukemia AML(orange) and me, breast (pink) and lung (white).

I know first-hand how it feels to have a lot of medical expenses as I am one of those patients who are solely dependent on one income, mine.  My medical bills are part of my daily budget.  Cancer and its treatments are expensive.  There never seems to be sufficient money to fight it.

Cancer has robbed me of many things–having children, my father, and brothers in my life, but it has not robbed me of my spirit or my fight.  I AM A SURVIVOR! I am thankful to be able to live my life to the fullest every day.  It is my commitment to pay it forward to those who struggle to pay for basic living expenses.

Richard needed money to help him get the treatment he needed to live.  He focused more on how he was going to pay for treatments and how the expenses were going to affect his family.  I have a dream, with God’s guidance and your help, that Cancer of Many Colors will be a major resource for cancer patients in the communities of the Midlands.  With CMC resources, those who are fighting the fight can do so with fewer financial concerns leaving them more energy to reach their goal of living a life free of cancer and hope for the future.  I am determined that although cancer took much from me, I will make a difference with this organization to honor those I have lost and shine a light for those in the fight.

Cancer deserves no respect, but the people fighting it sure do.

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Good company in a journey makes the way seem shorter. — Izaak Walton

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