Updated: Jul 25, 2018
Marianinha shares her story of hope, not just in overcoming disease, but also the importance of faith, empowerment, self-confidence and advocating for oneself.
In 1989, Marianinha Mascarenhas was diagnosed with colorectal cancer. Prior to having surgery to remove the tumor from her colon and rectum, Marianinha received a radium implant to shrink the tumor so that it would be easier to extract. While the radium implant did shrink the tumor, it also damaged a lot of surrounding healthy tissue in Marianinha’s abdominal area. This caused extensive bleeding and pain. When Marianinha had surgery to remove the tumor, she was told by her surgeon to expect the bleeding and pain to continue for the rest of her life. Following surgery, Marianinha began chemotherapy to kill any remaining cancer cells, but this treatment was very short-lived. Due to the damage from the radium implant, her body could not handle the chemotherapy. However, her oncologist, who had quickly become a close friend, refused to give up. He found another option for Marianinha - hyperbaric oxygen therapy at a local hospital, which would deliver oxygen to her body at up to 3 times the normal atmospheric pressure, thus allowing for faster healing of her abdominal area. Marianinha had 32 hyperbaric oxygen treatments. The results: her insides healed, the pain and bleeding went away and Marianinha’s follow up colonoscopies have been clean ever since.
While Marianinha’s colorectal cancer has not returned in 28 years, she did have a setback 5 years ago when she was diagnosed with breast cancer - completely unrelated to the colon cancer. Marianinha had surgery to remove her breast, followed by what was to be 4 rounds of chemotherapy. However, after being admitted to the emergency room twice during the first round of chemotherapy, Marianinha’s children asked her, “Are you doing the chemotherapy for you or for us? Because we don't want you to go through it for us.” That one question was all it took for Marianinha to decide she would discontinue the chemotherapy treatments. When her oncologist objected, Marianinha’s children, who at this point had grown very strong and confident in advocating for their mother, thanked her oncologist for her help and then found a new oncologist who was willing to work with them on Marianinha’s terms.
Although Marianinha says she now feels great overall, she hasn’t been without other health challenges since the breast cancer diagnosis and treatment. Over the past four years, she has overcome a blood infection, two hernia surgeries and a very severe MRSA infection (a type of staph infection typically resistant to antibiotics) requiring a month-long hospital stay.
Today, monthly acupuncture treatments are helping Marianinha recover from the lingering effects of the MRSA infection. Marianinha initially tried acupuncture five years after having colorectal cancer. She had about ten treatments at that time and says she could really feel the difference in her body and overall health. According to Marianinha, acupuncture treatments continue to impact her very positively - physically, mentally and even spiritually.
Marianinha says that through all her health issues over the past 28 years, her hope has continuously come from her faith: faith in God, faith in herself, faith in her doctors and faith in her treatments. As a devout Catholic, Marianinha believes that a strong relationship with God plays a very important role in healing. Her faith in herself comes from her faith in God, who she believes is more powerful than any doctor or medicine. Marianinha believes that God has a plan for her and her life. Each time she has been faced with a health challenge, she never asks, “Why me?” Instead, she thinks “Maybe I can handle it better in God's eyes and that's… okay if it is me.” She believes that perhaps she has gone through these experiences so she can share her story with others and help them to focus on having hope, as well.
Her faith in God and herself has given Marianinha and her children the confidence to maintain full control over her healthcare decisions. While she has had excellent care by most of her doctors and fully respects all of them, occasionally she works with a doctor or treatment that isn’t ideal for her. Once she realizes this, she knows it is time to move on and find another doctor and path in which she has 100% faith. Knowing she has the power to make her own healthcare decisions has given Marianinha and her children more courage and allowed them to all grow stronger together. As she says, now her faith is her primary medicine and leads her to the right answers.
Marianinha says that hope is a very critical part of her healing. She maintains hope by focusing on the positive and not allowing negative thoughts or fears to enter her mind. She says, “living in fear is like a temptation [that] comes to us, but if you can fight the temptation, then all the positive… and good thoughts will make you stronger.” She accomplishes this by focusing her thoughts on all the good things that are happening in her life, regardless of any health challenges she faces. She doesn’t think about the future, but rather chooses to focus her thoughts, attention and energy on the present day. Her only contemplation of the future has been envisioning herself as healthy and then leaving it up to God to lead her down the right path toward health. At the end of the day, she says “I’m a much stronger person having gone through all of this.”
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