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Chemo QT: 6-time cancer survivor

My name is Michelle Ann Gearhart-Pash and I am a six-time breast cancer survivor. I was born on June 22, 1956 in Los Angeles to my wonderful parents Gerard and Mary Gearhart. We moved to Montebello in 1962.

Michelle A. Gearhart-Pash

I had a wonderful childhood with lots of love and was always encouraged to be the best that I could be. In July 1983 I met my husband Bob Pash, the love of my life. We got married in August 1991.

Now, I will tell you the rest of my story. In April 1988, at the age of 31, I discovered a lump in my left breast while taking a shower. I never thought that it could be breast cancer since there was no breast cancer in my family. There was one thing I knew for sure, that I was going to City of Hope. With all of their medical knowledge and outstanding doctors, I knew that was the medical center where I wanted to be treated. The biopsy confirmed all of my worst fears when the lump was discovered to be malignant. After having a lumpectomy and seven weeks of radiation, I had a positive attitude and said, “I am going to beat this.” My high spirits and confidence worked like magic for me and my family. I always felt that I was in control. After five years of being cancer-free, I secretly breathed a sigh of relief and my family did the same. I continued with my happy life as a new wife and a wonderful daughter. Then in April 1999, eleven years after the first bout with breast cancer, the dreaded disease returned to my right breast (I discovered the lump); again, a lumpectomy and several weeks of radiation. I did not let this get me down. I said, “I beat this once and I will beat it again.”

Two months later we learned that my mom had a brain tumor. I had to fight hard this time, to be there for my mom and dad, because they were always there for me. We all stayed strong and said lots of prayers. Seven months later, in November 1999, I found a lump in my left breast. I thought, this cannot be happening to me. It was breast cancer. I had a double mastectomy and reconstructive surgery on December 6, 1999, followed by radiation and good old chemotherapy. I always had a smile on my face and told jokes. I never gave up. I am a survivor. My spirits always were high and my confidence never left me.

I could tell you about the chemo, but let me move on with my wonderful life that I was going to enjoy. In June 2000, we discovered my mom had a second brain tumor. Thank God neither of her tumors was malignant. I was at the hospital with my mom the whole time. My energy was not back yet, but I never complained and never lost my spirit. My mom recovered and we began to normalize our lives.

This story does not end here. In October 2000 I discovered a lump under my arm. The cancer was now in my lymph nodes. Here I go again with more chemotherapy and radiation. Three weeks after my therapy was over, I had a stem cell transplant with high dose chemo. (I have had so much chemo; my car license plate is “CHEMO QT.”) Although this was a grueling experience, I did not give up fighting this cancer. I was discharged from the City of Hope Hospital on May 2, 2001. Not being one to sit around and feel sorry for myself, I spent the summer raising $8,000 for the City of Hope breast cancer run.

In August 2001 my father was diagnosed with lung cancer. He lost his battle with cancer and passed away on December10, 2001, He also was a patient at City Of Hope. Now, my mom, my husband and I had to find a way to go on without my dad. This was not easy.

Then, on March 17, 2005, my mom passed away. My parents are now gone but they left me with the Strength, Courage and the Will to Survive.

This brings me to March 2008; I found another lump in my left breast (yes, this was after a double mastectomy). It also was malignant and the fight is on again. The difference is it was only me and my husband fighting this fight. Did we do it? Of course we did. I have already told you I am a survivor. Just to make sure you are counting right, we are at the fifth diagnosis. I must have an aversion with odd numbers, so guess what happened in June 2008? I found another lump in my breast. It was another cancer. Although extremely rare, breast cancer can occur after a mastectomy. It has happened to me, twice. It is interesting to note that each of these six diagnoses was a new breast cancer and not a reoccurrence. You would think that I would stop checking myself for lumps, but not me. Remember, I am a survivor. I have been a patient of City of Hope for 23 years and I still have a very positive attitude. I am an extremely active person who enjoys walks, volunteer work and shopping. (My husband always says that I have a black belt in shopping.) To me, sitting around the house and feeling sorry for your self is counter-productive to fighting a disease like cancer.

There are many more details I could share, some of which are actually humorous, but I’ll save them for another time. I watch some of those reality shows on television and I think to myself, you don’t have to eat bugs or fight alligators to be a survivor. Just ask me. What I’ve accomplished is not particularly complex or secretive. All it takes is the right attitude, love and support from friends and/or family, and a little divine intervention; or if you prefer, luck. All of this, coupled with the excellent care and treatment at City Of Hope, has been a winning combination for me over, and over, and over…… I pray that it will work for others.

— by Michelle A. Gearhart-Pash


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