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Survivors say attitude is everything in beating cancer

June 03, 2002|by STACEY DANZUSO

chambersburg@herald-mail.com

CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. - Surviving cancer is all about attitude, said Debbie Pagach, who will celebrate five years of being cancer-free next month.

The Mont Alto, Pa., resident was one of more than 200 cancer survivors and their friends and family who celebrated life Sunday afternoon at the Summit Cancer Center's ninth annual National Cancer Survivors' Day.

Pagach, 44, was diagnosed with breast cancer in 1997, three weeks after her older sister, Barbara Clopper, was diagnosed with it.

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She said her sister's diagnosis prompted her to do a breast self-exam, during which she found a lump.

The lump proved to be an aggressive form of cancer that was still in the early stages and had not spread. Months of chemotherapy and 30 radiation treatments eradicated the cancer from Pagach's body.

Her sister passed away two years ago.

With no recurrences and feeling healthy, Pagach is looking forward to reaching the five-year benchmark in July.

"The more time passes, you become less apprehensive, unless you have symptoms," she said. "Doctors say there is a lower chance of recurrence after five years."

After she was diagnosed, Pagach said she leaned on her husband, Richard, and two aunts who are breast cancer survivors.

"The hope for me was through talking to an aunt that was a 20-year survivor. Talking to someone who has longevity and the particular cancer you have helps," she said.

Almost every year since, the Pagaches have come to the annual Summit event.

"It's to see the number of people still surviving that are much older than I am," Pagach said.

She advises women to do regular breast self-exams, to pay attention whatever symptoms they have and to keep a positive attitude if they are diagnosed with cancer.

"Dr. (Leslie) Scorza said to me, 'You do not have a death sentence, but you can turn it into one by your attitude,'" Pagach said.

Pagach stays involved with cancer survivors and those newly diagnosed by chairing a team in the Relay for Life event every year to raise money.

She has passed that spirit onto her son Dallas, who at age 16 became the first teen on the Relay For Life committee.

In addition to making ice cream sundaes and posing for a cancer survivors' photo, Pagach and the others heard Dr. Marianne Herr-Paul talk about her own experience surviving breast cancer.

It's been 21/2 years since she was diagnosed, and Herr-Paul said her life is now divided between "before cancer" and "after cancer."

"The day that changed everything was when my pathology report came back" and showed she had a malignant tumor, Herr-Paul said.

She said her diagnosis was a wake-up call.

While she already lived a healthy life by exercising and eating well, Herr-Paul said she has quit her job as a full-time family practitioner to see her own family more and open up an osteopathic medicine office where she can spend more time with her patients.

"I am grateful for the new perspective," she said.

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