COVER STORY: The power of faith

Last Updated on January 28, 2018 by Editor

“You have cancer.”

Three words no one wants to hear.

“I have faith.”

Three words we all hope we can say when confronted with that diagnosis.

Mike Zasa, Laurie Siniscaro and Bob Piperata and his wife, Diana, all have heard the phrase and have faced health concerns over the last few years. Yet, they approach their challenges with a strong faith in God, putting their lives in His hands. Despite what happens, good or bad, they never give up on their faith.

These are their stories:

Mike: ‘Luck or providence?’

I was diagnosed (in 2016) around Veterans Day after experiencing slurring of my speech and weakness on my right side.

My doctor suggested I go for an MRI. At the end of the scan I was told by a voice at the end of the phone that the person speaking was a doctor who was viewing the MRI from a different location. He told me was he was sorry that he couldn’t tell me the news in person but that I had a large tumor on the left side of my brain.

I was told that I needed to call for an ambulance from the scan and go the hospital ASAP. When I arrived I was told that I would be operated in the area that night. The neurologist who met me said I was better off going to Crouse in Syracuse where they “awake” brain surgery.

Luck or providence?

Mike Zasa

The neurosurgeon at Crouse immediately took another MRI. Upon completion he informed me that the tumor was a malignant cancerous tumor that I’ve had for at least five years and finally grew bigger and moved. He also informed me that while the tumor was malignant and cancerous it was not aggressive, and said that if I had to pick any tumor, that was kind to get. It doesn’t spread to or from any other part of the body. The name is oligodendroglioma

Luck or providence?

The doctor, while letting me know without doubt that I had a long and rough road ahead of me, had a calming manner as well a good sense of humor. He told me he would not operate until after Thanksgiving. He prescribed medicine to help shrink and soften the tumor.

The operation, which was Dec. 1, 2016, was supposed to last eight to 10 hours. It lasted four hours due to the medicine, which really did soften the tumor. Before and after the operation I was visited by priests, sisters, chaplains and Bishop Cunningham.

Luck or providence?

After a few days in the hospital and a week in rehab I was sent home to start chemo (pill form) and radiation for five weeks in Syracuse every day. The doctor was from Utica and whose brother I went to school with.

Luck or providence?

I was able to return to teaching theology part-time at Notre Dame after spring break. My sick days had just run out when I was allowed to return.

Luck or providence?

Many people came to my aid during this past year. Family members, friends and former and present co-workers were there constantly whether it was driving every day to Syracuse for five weeks straight, going for or taking me shopping, taking me out for something to eat, coming to visit and bringing me communion.

Having what happened to me and the “guardian angels” was by no means luck — it was God’s providence. I am deeply and forever grateful for the prayers, thoughts, cards and support over the past years.

A saying and a scripture verse were in the back of my mind: “If you pray, why worry, and if you worry, why pray,” and “whether we live or we die we are the Lord’s.” — Romans 14:8.

Laurie: Grateful for blessings

I am 64 years old, but my “health journey” began when I was 62.

In April 2015, I began to feel intense pain in my right hip that began one month before I retired. After several doctor visits to four specialists receiving misdiagnoses and treatments, I had a hip replacement in July 2016. Recovery was uneventful and I looked forward to enjoying my retirement. However, life had a different plan.

At the parish Christmas party on Dec. 9, 2016, for which Joe and I were co-chairs, I began to feel a lot of discomfort in my back and abdomen. We left the party early and the next day, feeling worse, I was taken to the emergency room.

After a series of tests, I was told that I needed to see my own gynecologist as soon as possible because I had two huge cysts on my ovaries. I saw him four days later. He referred me to a gynecology-oncology specialist in Syracuse, and I was seen within a few days.

Joe and Laurie Siniscarco

My own gynecologist, although indicating that the problem could be serious, told us the only way to know what we were dealing with was to have a biopsy. Nowhere to this point had anyone said the word cancer, but it was certainly on our minds. It seemed that what the specialists weren’t saying was more telling than not. I went to the oncologist in Syracuse with my husband, daughter and sister, again being told that the only definitive way to tell what we were dealing with was to have a biopsy. That would be done at the time of the hysterectomy, which was scheduled for Dec. 28.

However, when I left the doctor’s office, the impression that she gave on the discharge sheet was that I had malignant ascites. I knew what that was since I had been in the medical profession. I told my family what it read and we all cried. We went to my sister’s house who lives in Camillus and we continued to cry for a while.

Then something came over me later that day. I decided that I wasn’t going to cry anymore and was going to turn that emotion into fighting. I prayed that God would be with me through the surgery and whatever was found we would handle. I had surgery on Dec. 28 as planned and it was confirmed that I had ovarian cancer. The doctor told me she felt certain that she had gotten all of the cancer but that I would need follow-up treatment to be sure. I remember feeling grateful to God for that news.

And so it began. Chemotherapy once a week for 18 weeks. I felt fortunate for the fact that I did not feel sick like I had heard so many people experience. I was afraid to feel that other than being extremely tired and sleeping all day on Thursdays, I was getting through chemo OK. Then I hit a wall on week 10. Although still not feeling nauseous, I had other problems. During the rest of treatment, I had three blood transfusions because my red blood cells were being depleted. To say that going through chemo was uneventful would be a lie, but I remember being grateful to God that it was not worse.

I had so many prayers during my illness that I was so appreciative for. Family, friends, strangers and parishioners, some that I hardly knew, sent me cards and prayers. I told someone that I thought that my sister stopped people on the street to ask for their prayers. Every day she called me with more news of people she had praying for me. I am so overwhelmed by the number of people from this parish that reached out to me through their prayers that I find it hard to express in words. Every week when Joe came home from Mass he would tell me how many people asked about me and were praying for me. It was those prayers that kept me going and brought me through this crisis. There is no way to ever repay their kindness.

I made it through the course of chemo and am considered in remission. I remain part of an experimental study that will conclude after two years. I felt that everything was in God’s hands leading to the inclusion in this study. I also thought that the worst was over and that I could resume my retirement plans, so Joe and I booked a cruise to begin on Oct. 1 to celebrate my remission from cancer.

However, life again had another plan. On Sept. 18, I was again admitted to the hospital with blood clots in my lungs, which is a side-effect from my cancer. It was a serious condition, but I did not have any negative thoughts about what would happen to me. I felt that God would take care of me and I knew that I had many people praying for me. Needless to say, we canceled the cruise.

I never remember asking the “why me” question throughout this journey. But when I had the blood clots, I do remember that I did ask, “How much more do you want me to endure?” But I quickly made up my mind that I would endure whatever I was asked to because God had been so good to me thus far. Despite everything that I have been through, I feel very grateful for the many blessings that I have received because I know that the outcomes could have been much different.

The best compliment that I have received through my journey came from my sister-in-law Mary, who has often remarked that I have shown so much grace and dignity (her words) throughout this experience. I always respond back to her that it was not me, it was God’s hand that brought me through it. I am very grateful for his many blessings.

Joe and I are again ready to enjoy our retirement — and God willing we will.

Bob: ‘Play the hand you’re dealt’

I had been followed for some time for issues with my prostate. My dad passed away from cancer that originated in his prostate. Unfortunately, he never went to the doctor until it was too late to have treatment for this condition.

My urologist, Dr. Robert P. Fleischer, was very aware of my family history, so even though my bloodwork was almost normal, he suggested that I have a biopsy just to be on the safe side.

I had gone to the doctor’s appointment alone, so I agreed to whatever the doctor said. I set up the appointment.

When I gotc home I told my wife that I was going to cancel the appointment. Her immediate response was, “Oh, no you’re not. You’re keeping the appointment and I going with you to make sure.”

We both prayed that the results would be negative and there would be nothing to worry about. Unfortunately, when we went in for the results, we received the news that four of 12 samples were positive for cancer.

Bob and Diana Piperata

We left the doctor’s office shaken, but we knew that our faith and prayers would be our strength. There were tears and worry, but I felt that my attitude had to be that you have to play the hand you’re dealt.

The surgery went well and we all were relieved and grateful that it was behind us.

Unfortunately, several months later, I began having severe abdominal pain and my doctor suspected that some cancer cells had migrated to the bladder. Again, I faced surgery and we asked all of our family and friends to “storm heaven” with prayers on my behalf.

I had two more surgeries, but the pain became unbearable. Thanks to the persistence of Dr. Garth Garramone, my gastroenterologist, he found that either I had a blood clot from the prostate surgery or there was a “mass” there.

I was admitted to the hospital and the diagnosis of bladder cancer was made. Although we were all frightened by the diagnosis, never once did we ask, “Why, God?”

When I was scheduled for my third bladder surgery, another obstacle occurred and the result was open-heart surgery and a quadruple bypass.

I guess I was so grateful that the doctors found my heart problem before the scheduled surgery that I never questioned God. Instead, I felt that I was blessed by His intervention.

I am just about fully recovered from the heart surgery and I’m again facing the third surgery to remove more tumors from my bladder. The surgery will take place in Syracuse by a doctor who is fellowship trained in specifically treating bladder cancer. He was highly recommended by Dr. Fleischer, and my wife and I met with him on Dec. 22. We were very impressed with his knowledge and kindness. We are hopeful that this will be the final surgery, but as always, it’s in God’s hands.

To add another twist to the journey, my wife and I have been on, two days before our trip to Syracuse, my wife had to have a breast biopsy.

On the way home, my wife’s cellphone rang. It was from Dr. Nancy Shaheen, who had performed the biopsy. Unfortunately, her biopsy results were in and they were positive.

At this point we just looked at each other and said, “Really, God?!” My wife teased out loud, “Dear God, I know my hips are wide, but the shoulders not so much. I don’t really know how much more I can handle.”

At that point, the rosaries came out on the way home and have been in her hands even more times a day that usual.

We hope and pray that each of us has a favorable outcome and be able to see our beautiful and precious grandchildren Gia, Danielle and Alex Allan grow up.

We both have great faith and hope for the future. We hope we will continue to have the love and prayers of our family, friends and all the people who pray for everyone in need on the many prayer lists we have been blessed to be listed on.

 After my diagnosis, I was given a “prayer shawl” from Sister Jean Albert Burns, a Sister of St. Joseph who worked with my wife. When I wrap myself in this beautifully knitted shawl, I feel the peace and comfort of being enveloped in God’s arms.