The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

October 11, 2012

Survivor encourages regular exams

Frank Sojak

— Patricia Reese believes the best medicine for fighting breast cancer is regular examinations.

“My advice is to be faithful with your monthly self-breast examinations and your yearly mammograms because it will save your life,” the Richland Township resident said.

Last October, while doing her regular self-breast examinations, she noticed a small lump.

Because the lump was fairly close to the surface of the skin, she was not sure of what it could be.

She knows that many types of cancers are located deep, but in learning more about breast cancer, she learned that some types of cancer also can be near the skin surface.

Reese waited a month because she thought the lump could just be a cyst or a pimple that had not yet risen to the surface.

“I checked myself in November and it was still there,” she said.

She then called the office of Dr. Gerard Garguilo, a Johns-town breast surgeon where she gets her regular mammograms, for an examination.

“He did an ultrasound in his office and the results presented some concern,” she said.

A biopsy on the lump came back positive for cancer.

In January, Garguilo removed the lump and also a number of lymph nodes in the armpit to test to see if the cancer had spread.

“I was fortunate in that it had not spread to the lymph nodes,” she said.

After healing for a few weeks, she underwent tests by her oncologist, Dr. Ibrahim Sbeitan, of Johnstown, to see if the cancer had spread anywhere else.

“Luckily everything was clear, but my tests indicated that I would benefit from chemotherapy,” she said.

Due to complications, Reese was not able to complete the entire course of chemotherapy and thus completed the treatments through radiation.

Reese lost her reddish-brown hair, just as others lose their hair, during chemotherapy.

“You have to be prepared for it,” she said. “I got my hair cut very short because psychologically, I felt I could handle short hair falling out more easily than long hair.”

A registered nurse and clinical documentation audit specialist at Conemaugh Memorial Medical Center, she bought a wig, but the heat of the summer made it difficult to wear. She then bought a number of bandanna caps at a wig store.

A co-worker, Renee Kulback, had a family member make some additional bandanna caps for her.

Reese had plenty of support from everyone in her life.

She said her daughters, Vanessa Reese of Windber and Deanna Mehalko of Nanty Glo, and Deanna’s husband, Frank, gave her plenty of support.

“They were here to help me with whatever I needed,” Reese said.

She said her friends were very supportive, calling her daily to see if they could do something for her, sending her cards, and requesting Mass intentions for her at their churches.

The members of the two choirs she belongs to at

St. Benedict Roman Catholic Church in Geistown also were very supportive.

She said her co-workers plus the management team where she works likewise were the same.

“I had my Protestant friends and Catholic friends praying for me, so how could anything go wrong?” she said.

Singing for Mass this past Easter was an important step in Reese’s recovery.

“I asked God to make me feel well enough to do so,” Reese said. “And I was. And I even sang for the Good Friday service.

“I was really happy and grateful to God that I was well enough to sing,” she said.

Reese said she has been given a fairly good prognosis by her doctors and is looking forward to the birth of her first grandchild, a boy to be named William Joseph Mehalko, in a few weeks.

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