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Repeat Cancer Victim Beats the Odds

Share This article -Mary looks in the mirror at her surgery scars as she reflects, “This surgery from here to here I am cut open where my breast bone was sawed open.

Her scars tell a story of a journey of trusting God.

Mary continues, “And they took a tumor out.”

And how prayer gave her the will to live. Mary Pappas is a six time cancer survivor and is grateful to be alive. Just two years after she and her husband Steve married she was diagnosed with stage 3 thymoma, a rare form of cancer. She was only 25. She and Steve remember when doctors gave them the diagnosis.

Mary remembers, “’Yes it is malignant. And it’s stuck to your heart. It’s stuck to this. It’s stuck to that. It came out of its capsule so those cells spilled into your chest cavity.’”

Steve remembers, “I did think, ‘Oh, am I going to be left alone already? This is what I prayed for?  I prayed for someone to spend the rest of my life with, and is this how it's going to end up?’”

Doctors had to perform open chest surgery. Meanwhile, Mary’s family and friends from her church had come to pray.

Mary recalls, “Later I heard about prayer meetings where women and people were just weeping and moaning and crying out to God.”

Doctors removed the tumor successfully. Mary went through five weeks of radiation treatments and was given a clean bill of health. But over the next several years Mary would go through two more bouts of cancer. Medical treatments and prayer helped her pull through.

Steve recalls, “I read everything possible.  Everything I could read about healing, everything I could read about faith.  Anything I could find, I read it over and over and over.”

During this time she also started a family. In 1989, they had twin boys - Stephen and Michael. For the next seven years Mary enjoyed being a mother and living cancer free.

Mary says, “I just thought that was my last episode of ever having cancer again. And this was all behind me and I’m just going to raise and adore my children.” 

Steve says, “I had a lot of hope that this would be maybe the final time.”

But it wasn’t. In 2003, a routine cat scan showed a small mass on her liver.  

Mary recalls, “I was 34, I have two little kids I love more than life itself, I am not dying.”

Mary was admitted to the University of Pittsburg liver cancer center. Dr. James Marsh was the head surgeon. When he opened her up he discovered a prosthetic from her previous surgery had attached to her liver.

Dr. Marsh recalls, “Taking out the cancer, in and of itself, wasn’t that difficult. But getting the liver off this prosthetic material was a disaster and a nightmare, and when we were doing that, her liver cracked open. So we had to take out much more of her liver than we had originally intended.”

Doctors removed the cancer but after the surgery she started having seizures.  Doctors induced a coma. Her condition worsened and they put her on life support.

Dr. Marsh says, “She had scans of her brain, she had spinal taps several times. We consulted neurology, we consulted everyone and we couldn’t find what was wrong with her.”

For two weeks, Mary remained in the coma. Stephen and Michael were teenagers when they saw their mother in the hospital.

Michael recalls, “She just had like the feeding tube in there and then she had like all of these wires attached to her and it was just really like shocking. I’ve never seen anything like that.”

Stephen remembers, “I remember walking back to the waiting room there were friends and family for support and a lot of people just had tears in their eyes and their heads were down.”

Steve visited her everyday. On one of those days, the doctor told Steve that his wife might not make it.

Steve remembers, “He said, ‘I don't think you should leave tonight.’  I said, ‘That's fine, I won't.’ And I could tell in his voice and the way he would approach me that he was getting a little emotional. How do I explain that to my kids?”

Their church held a special prayer service. Their pastor David Thomas of Victory Christian center in Youngstown Ohio stood in for Mary.

Pastor Thomas recalls, “People laid hands upon me and a roar went up of just intensity. And we spoke life and decreed life.”

Two weeks later, Mary woke up.

Mary says, “My liver surgeon comes busting through and said, ‘The resurrection!’  Is what he said, because, you know, I was on complete life support.”

Stephen recalls, “I just kind of felt like it was the Lazarus story. To come out of the tomb you know what I mean?”

Michael says, “Raised from the dead.”

Stephen says, “And come forth and I was like I remember she turned to me and she said, ‘Praise God. And I said, ‘Yeah, yeah praise God.’”

Mary started rehab to learn how to walk again. In one month she was able to go home to be with her family.

Mary says, “We were altogether and God had brought us through a phenomenal time and left just an imprint on our hearts.”

Mary beat cancer two more times in 2008 and in 2009. Since then she’s been cancer free.

Dr. Marsh says, “She’s an amazing patient. And I think her faith and her courage is probably the most outstanding thing.Yes, I would definitely call her recovery miraculous.”

Mary now helps other cancer patients battle cancer. Mary has written a book about her journey of healing and shares her testimony at women’s conferences. She and her family know prayer and faith in God are the keys to overcoming any obstacle in life.

Steve says, “We've learned about the character of God through this and this whole thing is a miracle.”

Mary says, “I believe and I know that God will reach down into your situation and will make Himself so real and so known that you will know for sure He is in control.”

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