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Cancer survivor hopes to inspire

After 12 1/2 long years, Cathy McGrath is proud to say she is a survivor.

But in many ways, her battle with breast cancer isn’t over.

McGrath, 51, has made a complete recovery since undergoing surgery in 1991 to remove a malignant lump in her breast.

She now wants to share her courageous battle with other women in the hopes it will spread hope and the importance of early detection.

“If my story can save one life, than I know I’ve done something good,” said McGrath, who lives on Speers Hill with her husband, David, an employee at Wheeling-Pittsburgh Steel, Allenport.

At 7 p.m. Oct. 5, McGrath is hosting an inspirational service at the First Presbyterian Church of California. It is open to the public.

She will share her story of survivorship and spread the message for breast cancer awareness.

McGrath will also remind those attending that October is National Breast Cancer Awareness Month.

Breast cancer is the leading cause of death in women between the ages of 40 and 55, according to the National Breast Cancer Foundation.

When breast cancer is found early, the five-year survival rate is 96 percent.

For McGrath, breast cancer is something she has been dealing with for more than 20 years in her own life and those of her loved ones.

In 1983, her mother, Loretta Markle, died of breast cancer at the age of 54.

McGrath never knew her mother had malignant lumps in her breast until after she underwent a mastectomy in 1980.

“She knew she had a lump in her breast, but she didn’t tell anyone,” McGrath said. “She was the ‘great protector,’ and didn’t want us to worry.”

McGrath said it could have been months, or even years, before her mother went to the hospital to have the lump checked.

She succumbed to the deadly disease after a three-year battle.

McGrath’s aunt, Helen Leasure (her mother’s sister), was also diagnosed with breast cancer and is now a 13 1/2-year survivor.

With her family’s history of breast cancer, McGrath heeded the warnings and set out to help herself.

She conducted self breast examinations and went for regular mammograms.

About a year after her mother’s death, a benign, non-cancerous lump was found in her breast, which prompted McGrath to be even more cautious of taking care of herself.

So when she found another lump in 1991, McGrath took immediate action.

“I told my doctor I didn’t want to wait 30 days to see if it got bigger; I wanted it removed immediately,” McGrath said.

She expected it to be another benign lump, but when doctors informed her it was cancerous, a wave of shock and disbelief washed over her.

“I just kept asking why me and what did I do to deserve this, especially when I was doing everything I was supposed to be doing,” McGrath said.

News of her diagnosis devastated her husband and family, but McGrath knew she had to use her faith in God and inner strength to get through the ordeal.

“I never stopped believing in God,” she said. “And I never thought I could be so strong.”

She underwent 30 grueling chemotherapy treatments, and slowly started to win her health back.

She said it also brought her family closer together. McGrath has two stepsons, David Jr., 33, of Parma, Ohio, and Tim, 30, of Monessen.

After five years in remission, her doctors gave her a clean bill of health.

These days, McGrath and her family have taken her battle and turned it into something positive.

Since 1997, they have participated in the annual Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure Pittsburgh walk-a-thon and race. McGrath also participated in a breast cancer research study conducted by the University of Pittsburgh. She is also a a volunteer for the Pittsburgh Race for the Cure, as she works on T-shirt pick up days at Dick’s Sporting Goods in Greensburg.

Leasure and her daughter, Brenda Lucas, will sing at the service.

McGrath also sends friendly e-mail reminders to her women friends about getting regular mammograms.

She’s hoping her service at the church will also get that message across. Also participating in the service will be Leasure, and her daughter, Brenda Lucas, who will sing.

McGrath says she also wants to stress to women diagnosed with cancer that they should never give up.

“Cancer doesn’t have to mean a death sentence – you have to believe in yourself.”

For more information about McGrath’s inspirational service, call the church at (724) 938-7676.


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