Mass offers healing, hope for those diagnosed with breast cancer

Sid Hastings

Mary Callahan and her husband, Mike, and several other relatives came to the Mass seeking prayers of healing and support. In January, Callahan was diagnosed with stage four breast cancer, her third round in 20 years. This time, the cancer has metastasized to her brain and lung. She said she has found great support from her family and from the faith community.

Gesturing to her family seated next to her at a reception after the Mass June 9 at St. Mary Magdalen Church in Brentwood, Callahan said, "these people are going to help me though this."

A member of St. Gerard Majella Parish in Kirkwood, Callahan said she contacted her pastor, Father David Skillman, after her latest diagnosis. "My faith struggled when I was first diagnosed," she said. "But I went and talked to Father (Skillman), and he helped me get through a lot of it."

Callahan enjoys spending time with her family. "From January until now, we have had so many great family experiences," she said. "There's been that many things going on — birthdays and graduations, and we make sure we really celebrate."

Every June, the archdiocesan Respect Life Apostolate offers a Mass to honor those who have been affected by breast cancer. The Mass offers the opportunity for the congregation to join their sufferings with Christ and to pray for peace and healing of all.

Breast cancer is the second most common cancer found in American women, only behind skin cancers, according to the American Cancer Society. The average risk of a woman in the United States developing breast cancer is about 12 percent, or a 1 in 8 chance. About 266,120 new cases of invasive breast cancer will be diagnosed in women in 2018. Doctors generally recommend that women age 40 and older receive an annual mammogram.

Father Jack Siefert noted in the homily at the Mass June 9 that the Church offers "the healing and caring touch of Jesus Christ," and that we can find redemption through suffering in Jesus' example.

"Thank you for your faith in your very painful and very difficult time," said Father Siefert, pastor of St. Mary Magdalen. "To see so many embracing the pain of cancer and the beauty of their faith, that is redemptive suffering. You are witnesses of Christ to all of us."

Margie Sanford attended the Mass to give thanks to God. She was diagnosed with stage three breast cancer in 2008, and underwent a double mastectomy, chemo and radiation. "I remember at the time, I said if I could just have 10 more years, I would be very happy," she said.

Sanford found support from her family, friends and Mercy Hospital St. Louis, where she began working when she was 17. Last year, she retired after 48 years working in the medical lab there. The hospital chapel became her "parish," where she still serves as a eucharistic minister on Sundays.

Her co-workers provided moral support as well as help with medical bills. "The fact that I worked at a faith-based hospital, they all helped me get through," she said. "It was such a wonderful group of people. It actually was not a horrible experience — people there made it almost fun."

Sanford also credited a strong faith in helping her get through the difficulty of treatment and surgery. When she saw that the annual breast cancer Mass was coming up, she said, "I better get back and thank the Lord for those 10 years. Hopefully I'll have a lot more." 

>> Archdiocesan statement on Komen

The archdiocesan Respect Life Apostolate recommends the following organizations which support morally licit breast cancer research and prevention. As with all charitable contributions, the apostolate recommends contacting the organization before donating to obtain the most current information:

The Breast Cancer Prevention Institute: 30 Rehill Avenue, Suite 34001, Somerville, NJ 08876; 1 (866)622-6237;

Coalition on Abortion/Breast Cancer: P.O. Box 957133, Hoffman Estates, IL 60195-3051; 1 (877) 803-0102;

The archdiocese's current statement on the Susan G. Komen for the Cure organization, including a list of frequently asked questions, can be found online at 

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