“I Was Near Death:” Cathy Nazareno Thanks Her Stage 4 Cancer—Plus A Heavy Dose Of Faith And A Shocking Full Recovery—For Her New Lease On Life
“A lot of people call it ‘the battle against cancer.’ It wasn’t a battle for me; it was a journey. To win it or to lose it, it’s there. You have to accept it and live it.”
These are the words of Cathy Nazareno, an Asian Football Confederation and international match commissioner, sports talent manager, entertainment company director, and overall marketing buff, who was diagnosed with stage 4 colon cancer in September 2017.
By the time the fatal disease was detected, it had metastasized to a lymph node that affected her pancreas, spread to her femur and spine, and consumed 70 percent of her liver. According to cancer.org, patients like Cathy who discover that they have colon cancer at this stage have a “5-year relative survival rate of about 11%.” Still, Cathy’s doctors insisted that it could be successfully treated.
This mother of three girls chose to stay hopeful.
Cathy Nazareno with her longtime partner Chuck Severino
“You have two choices: either wallow in tears, or stand up. I stood up. Why will I wallow in tears? That’s so negative. I’ll go the positive route,” she shares with a conviction and self-assuredness that she’s had since her youth.
After receiving her diagnosis, many expected Cathy to be defeated and frail, but she’s been the absolute opposite all throughout the process. In fact, according to her longtime partner and footballer Chuck Severino, the last few months have been the liveliest Cathy has ever been. It’s an irony, but one that their family has warmly welcomed.
Seven months after her life-changing diagnosis, Cathy was declared to be cancer-free.
Stage 4 is just a number. I really did not think much of it then. But this week, I am in total shock, awe and amazement with God's healing grace as it was revealed to me that I had completely responded to chemo treatment. I was diagnosed to have stage 4 colon cancer last Sept 2017 which metastasized to a lymph node by the pancreas, bones (right femur and spine) and ate up 70% of my liver. 7 months later, I was hoping & praying that the liver masses are small enough to be blasted through Radio Frequency. After the Pet Scan, the Rad Doctor explained that that there is nothing seen on the lymph nodes and bones and no cancer activity in my liver. I have been speechless since I found out Monday. It was totally unexpected. It truly is a miracle and I am so elated to be given a second lease in this earthly life where I can never go back to my old habits. I have a mission to accomplish and I intend to continue this journey with God. As I Thank and Praise Him for His goodness and mercy, I would like to thank each one of you who thought of me, prayed, supported, visited me either at the hospital or wherever I was, for having small prayer groups, for making me laugh and smile, for messaging me, for sending gifts (flowers, food, fruits, prayer & novena pamphlets, oils, music among others), liked my posts, gave me advise, gave me a hug..... thank you! Thank you for being part of my healing journey! I know this experience is for a Purpose. Thank you for being part of God's Healing Grace and miracle! Love, light and joy to each one of you! "For I know the plans I have for you," declares the Lord, "plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future." JEREMIAH 29:11? #cancer #cancersurvivor #wow #workersofwellness
Her lymph nodes were clear of cancer cells, and so were her bones. The malignant masses in her liver that previously measured 12 and eight centimeters each had dramatically shrunk and were likewise devoid of cancerous activity. Her doctor was in tears while delivering the good news. As it seemed, Cathy’s life sentence had been lifted.
“It’s definitely a miracle,” this couple says with a palpable aura of relief and happiness.
Cathy continues, “This interview is good timing, because I have to share my story. I have to share the message of faith.”
Indeed, Cathy’s story is one worth knowing and taking to heart. Surviving a time when brokenness made her whole, Cathy is on a mission to share her secret to healing—healing not only of the body, but also of the mind and heart, and most importantly, the spirit.
Keep calm, and have faith
In the years leading up to her diagnosis, the once obstinate Cathy was living a life similar to that of career-oriented and successful women just like her. It was a life that prioritized deadlines and targets over sleep, depended on empty calories and caffeine instead of nutritious meals for fuel, demanded her to travel constantly without breaks, and didn’t quite have time for prayer and gratefulness during the daily grind. Where there was space for multiple socials in one evening, there was none for stillness and respite.
Because of her non-stop lifestyle, she also grew to become mentally and emotionally off-balance. While now calmer and more easy-going, Cathy was once a short fuse, easily stressed out and provoked, but slow to relax and decompress.
With 20/20 hindsight, Cathy now knows that she brewed herself a recipe for disaster with her old habits.
“Part of my healing process was to drop everything and to focus on myself. Healing is not only physical, but also spiritual, emotional, and even social—a super lifestyle change,” she emphasizes.
Her moment of reckoning came after a hearty family dinner that left her in pain the morning after. Attributing her discomfort to a treatable case of indigestion or gallstones, Cathy even flew to Bacolod where she was scheduled to meet the Azkals’ James Younghusband. Yet the pain refused to subside, and knowing that her threshold for discomfort was otherwise infinite, Cathy knew that an ultrasound was due.
After further appointments with an oncologist and a liver specialist, it was confirmed: she had cancer.
Cathy remained level-headed and stoically inquired about modes of treatment, while Chuck had to excuse himself from the room to compose himself.
Looking back at that day, Cathy has realized that her strength came from knowing that she could surpass this trial just as she had many others in the past, including her parents’ separation and her own, as well as her sister’s breast cancer diagnosis from a few years back. She decided that this would be no different and faced it head on knowing that she was in good hands—not only of her doctors, but ultimately, of her creator Himself.
With the confidence of a woman healed wholly with the help of her faith, Cathy declared, “[Cancer] was just how I realized, ‘Lord you gave this to me for a reason.’ One thing that I did was total surrender to the Lord.’”
The open secret of the power of prayer
Immediately, Cathy signed on to her treatment plan and underwent 54 hours of chemotherapy every two weeks. With the permission of her medical team, she also complemented her hospital sessions with herbal medicine. Combining these with a total diet overhaul that had Cathy trading in her favorite meat dishes for healthy plates of fresh veggies cold turkey, she began her road to recovery.
When it came to caring for her emotional and mental well-being, she learned to let go.
“I’m putting [my responsibilities] on hold because I don’t want to over-extend myself… Even if I can close my eyes and still do all my jobs, I am now very conscious of the fact that ‘this is my new normal. I have to rest.’ It’s a discipline. If before it was a discipline to do all my work, now it’s a discipline of having to rest,” she explains.
But overall, it was spiritual nurturing that Cathy claims tipped the scales to her advantage.
As she learned to slow down, so did her mind and her heart. Rather than be angry with God for cursing her with an untimely sickness, she yielded to His will and combated resentment with prayers for understanding. Rather than dwell the experiences and memories that the disease might rob her of, she prayed to become appreciative of the existing joys in her life.
“I got to rest. I got to be with my children. I got to spend quality time with friends I didn’t get to see while I was in the hospital. I got to pray a lot. I got to laugh. I forgot about laughter; I was all work, work, work. I got to eat properly. Then my entire family became much closer. Those are the things that I became grateful for with prayer,” reflects Cathy.
And as Chuck, who is a devoted Christian, adds, people often forget that emotional problems can contribute to sickness. One might have access to the best doctors and most potent drugs in the world, but without belief in the grander scheme of things, acceptance, and forgiveness—without faith and prayer—treatment could be rendered ineffective. Whatever is in one’s heart, whether good or bad, will surely physically manifest.
“Those are the things in life we all learn. I believe that there are no problems in life—only issues. And these issues must be learned. I knew that I needed to learn something from it,” Cathy shares.
After all that had happened, Chuck remains convinced that it was his clear request from God that helped hasten her healing.
With a smile, Chuck recalls, “My prayer was direct. I told the Lord that He would not shrink the cancer, but get rid of the whole thing. Cathy told me that she hoped her cancer would shrink so that it could be blasted with radiotherapy, but I said, ‘No, there will be nothing to blast because it will be clear.’ I said everyone would be surprised with results, but not me, because of my prayer. And true enough, when the scans came out, everything was clear.”
With this, Chuck championed the army of vigilant prayers that he and Cathy believe were also crucial to her miraculous recovery. When Cathy had hesitations to tell her friends and extended family about her cancer, he convinced her to do be open with them. His reason? The more people know about your condition, the more people you have to pray for you.
“If he didn’t share my experience socially, and if I didn’t, the results wouldn’t be as drastic as this. A lot of people really prayed and offered mass. My recovery was really through prayer,” says Cathy.
These days, Cathy’s been keeping busy with rearranging her career path. With her health, family, and faith as has her new priorities, she’s slowly figuring out how to incorporate her professional life, and this time, in moderation.
“My prayer now is always is to make sure that I continue being in my ’new normal,’ that I have time for God and for people that matter most,” Cathy says.
After finding out that she had been cured of cancer in April, she believes that she is one of the lucky few who were given a second chance and a fresh start. She’s now realized that her life has a greater purpose.
To her, she’s not only a miracle in the flesh, but a vessel of living faith that must be shared. To concretize her feelings, Cathy—along with others who have concluded their journeys with cancer—put together a group called Workers of Wellness composed of cancer patients and survivors. She plans to mobilize members to provide support to those who undergo chemo alone, and eventually spearhead an initiative to provide wigs to those who cannot afford them.
“This is what I wanted. I prayed to the Lord that when I get out of this, I am going to share the message of faith and do a testimonial, just to show that prayer moves mountains. I was near death, and today, I’m here,” Cathy concludes.
Cathy continues to take oral chemo and undergo three hours of infusions every three weeks as the final stages of her treatment. Along with Chuck, Cathy encourages everyone, whether in need of help or just simply living their day to day lives, to foster a better relationship with God, as it can do wonders.
Take it from Cathy—a woman who needed disease to be brought back to life, a woman who proudly says that she was “blessed with cancer.”
Produced by Christina N. Lopez, Grace Libero-Cruz and Sara de los Reyes
Photographs by Chris Clemente
Videography by Marnie Giron
Video editing by Dustin Gapasen
Shot on location at Tomatito - BGC Corporate Center, 11th Ave, Bonifacio Global City, Taguig
Special thanks to Anton Barretto