MENOMONEE FALLS — Gazing into the eyes of each of her four wide-eyed children and infant daughter, Michelle Cascio planned to journal, write letters and create videos to mark their hallmark moments — the ones she did not expect to see.
But, like most mothers of five young children, she was busy and unable to find the time to prepare for the day she wouldn’t be around to make breakfast, help with homework, say prayers and tuck them into bed. Before six-month-old Ciara was born, she and her husband, Tim, managed to squeeze in a trip with the children to Florida to celebrate one last vacation together as a family.
“I was in quite a bit of pain from my surgery and was very busy with the children, their homeschooling and my medical appointments,” said Michelle, 42.
While she didn’t have time to write or record videos, her children would not be without this piece of the family’s story.
“We had copies of the articles (in various publications, including the Catholic Herald) written about us, so I knew that would give them the history of what I went through.”
The diagnosis last October of aggressive pancreatic cancer placed a new urgency in Tim and Michelle’s lives. Time sped and plans needed to be made. First priority was the children — Capri, Chloe, Claire and Culen, all under age 7 — and spending as much time together as possible.
Though the children were not told the gravity of the situation, the Menomonee Falls woman recalled her birthday last year, when Chloe wanted to spend the day doing the things her mother loved.
“She knew that my favorite things were popcorn and sitting on the couch and coloring,” said Michelle. “It is the little things, that if she had to remember something, she would remember this.”
Didn’t expect a happy ending
A woman of unshakable faith, Michelle has taken her family, members of St. Stanislaus Oratory, Milwaukee, to adoration of the Blessed Sacrament every Wednesday for years, prayed a daily rosary and always believed in miracles. But after her diagnosis, she did not expect a happy ending. Most diagnosed with this disease are not offered a favorable outcome even with chemotherapy and radiation.
It was at adoration before she was pregnant with Ciara that Michelle heard the Lord speak to her, saying, “I know what you need.” While she did not know and still doesn’t know exactly what he meant, she has an idea.
This past August, Michelle began suffering abdominal pain and chronic constipation; she was prescribed medication, but it was not effective. One X-ray showed constipation, another did not. Still in distress, Michelle had a CT scan that positively diagnosed constipation, but something was missing — her cancer.
“They told me the pain was from the constipation and possibly a hernia, but the tumor was gone. In fact, my GI doctor said that I originally had two cancerous tumors and both were gone,” she said. “I was so excited that I called Tim right away; we called our family and gave such praise to God. I couldn’t believe it.”
Cancer found during pregnancy
While pregnant with Ciara, Michelle was diagnosed after undergoing surgery to remove what doctors thought was a cyst. Half of her pancreas and all of her spleen were removed in an attempt to remove the cancer.
Her gastroenterologist wanted Michelle to begin chemotherapy while pregnant and to deliver Ciara early. Michelle and Tim, 51, group director at Bader Rutter, a marketing and advertising agency, opted to wait until after the baby was born before deciding what to do. Her doctors were encouraging her to have chemotherapy, but Michelle wanted alternative medication.
“One of my friends was upset with me because I wouldn’t do it and was angry and asked how I could not go through the treatments,” she said. “It was really unfortunate because she lost someone close to her who did go through chemotherapy and radiation. There was so much fear from everyone about why I wasn’t going through the treatments.”[su_pullquote align=”right”]To read more of the Cascio family story and to watch their 10th anniversary video, visit: www.gofundme.com/2eeytz2c www.ourladyofgoodsuccess.com/ [/su_pullquote]
Michelle and Tim traveled to New York and Texas in search of alternative treatment, but they didn’t comfortable with what either clinic offered.
With guidance from Minneapolis-based integrative cancer specialist, Dr. Kevin Connors of the Connors Clinic in Minneapolis, Minnesota, Michelle used alternative treatments popular in Germany, such as a Rife Machine, Far Infrared Therapy (FIR), diet and nutrition.
“When we first spoke with him in mid-December (2015) to see if we were a fit for one another, he said he felt strongly that folks who come to him and are faith-based and realize that God is in charge, do much better,” Tim said. “We really liked that approach and knew that he wanted to do the right thing for Michelle.”
Many ‘God moments’ throughout treatment
There were many unexplainable moments throughout Michelle’s cancer diagnosis that could only be explained as God moments. Connors mentioned to Tim that he had a peace beyond understanding about Michelle’s treatment.
“That same day, a woman who lost her son to Leukemia wrote on our Go Fund Me site that she was praying Psalm 91 over us and was thanking our Lord for his peace that passes understanding,” she said. “At 11 p.m., I chose my doctor.”
Michelle’s spontaneous healing was a surprise to the many physicians who treated her throughout the past year. According to Connors, Michelle was “a sick little puppy” when she first came to his office.
“Pancreatic cancer is one of the deadliest and rapidly progressing cancers that there are. The five-year survival rate is not good even with chemotherapy and radiation, and she didn’t do any of that,” he said. “From a medical standpoint, it is a miracle. It is, and we give God all the credit as he has led us to help her with changing her diet, using the rife machine and light therapy. She did the things we suggested and God gives us the wisdom to treat her and he does the healing.”
Everyone carries cancer cells in their body, explained Connors, and the reason some get cancer and another does not is that the healthy person’s immune system is able to kill those cells and the cells grow at a faster rate than their immune system can control.
“Cancer is such a nasty disease and we always want to celebrate successes, because there are so many failures. The definition of success is a person that lives and stays in a state where the cancer stopped growing so that instead of living three months, they may live another 10 years,” he said.
“But, they still have the cancer inside them and our goal is to push it out, turn cancer from a fatal disease to a chronic manageable disorder. For them, we manage it on a continuing basis of dietary consideration, nutrients, supplements, as well as chemotherapy and radiation correction. In Michelle’s case, the tumors are gone; and that is a miracle,” Connors added.
Devotion to Our Lady of Good Success
In addition to alternative treatment, Michelle and Tim developed a deep devotion to Our Lady of Good Success. A family friend, Kathy Heckenkamp, sent a photo of Our Lady of Good Success to the hospital for Michelle to have in her room. As they prayed novenas to Our Lady for her intercession, word spread throughout the world through their GoFundMe site for Michelle. Thousands prayed for her healing.
“Our Lady of Good Success knows what she is doing and is very exacting,” said Michelle. “When I was first diagnosed, I had peace. I knew that I didn’t understand it, and one of the hardest things was that I had to pray to be peaceful and pray for God to take care of me.”
The GoFundMe site brought in more than $50,000, which enabled Michelle to travel to Minnesota for her monthly treatments.
“We are so grateful for all of the prayers and the financial contributions,” said Tim. “We really appreciate everyone.”
At the same time Michelle was diagnosed, their close friend’s 5-year-old son was stumbling up the stairs and unsteady on his feet. At Children’s Hospital he was diagnosed with a brain tumor.
“His name is Lenard Gossen and we have been going through this together,” said Michelle. “I ask that everyone please pray for his healing.”
Tim and Michelle, they believe that the many hours spent praying in front of the Blessed Sacrament are what brought them through this difficult time.
“I believe that since we spent the time as a family in front of the Eucharist an hour a week that we’ve been given graces to handle this last year,” said Michelle.
On their 10-year wedding anniversary, Tim and Michelle created a video that they placed on their Go Fund Me page to let everyone know of her healing.
“We worked on that video for several hours a couple of days before and kept messing it up,” said Tim. “Finally, we tried it again after adoration on our anniversary and it was just perfect. Our Lady did that for us and Michelle is a walking example that prayer does work.