Thanks for joining me!
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
Richard 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.
Good company in a journey makes the way seem shorter. — Izaak Walton