OCO Cancer Services Program Saving Lives

OSWEGO, NY – For Candace Pascarella, Oswego County Opportunities’ Cancer Services Program Partnership is much more than just another one of the many human services programs that OCO offers.

It’s a lifesaver.

Coordinator of OCO’s Cancer Services Program Partnership Carolyn Handville (left) reviews information with Candace Pascarella, a cancer survivor who is currently enrolled in the program.
Coordinator of OCO’s Cancer Services Program Partnership Carolyn Handville (left) reviews information with Candace Pascarella, a cancer survivor who is currently enrolled in the program.

Pascarella’s journey to OCO’s Cancer Services Program Partnership began when she felt a sharp pain in her side, when she reacted to the pain she felt a lump in the side of her breast.

She knew then that her life would be changing dramatically.

Candace had been rather negligent when it came to her preventative health care.

She rarely did self-breast exams and hadn’t had a mammogram in 12 years.

When she felt the lump, she remembered a conversation she had with Kylie Lacey, a Nurse Practitioner at OCO’s Fulton Health Center, two years prior.

Pascarella had visited the center for a sinus infection.

During the conversation she mentioned to Lacey that she had not had a breast exam in 12 years, and with her husband’s recent kidney problems that have led to premature dialysis and their present health insurance status, she had no plans of having a mammogram done any time soon.

Offering to help, Lacey informed her about the Cancer Services Program Partnership of Oswego County that is administered through OCO.

The program, which is funded by the NYS Department of Health and the Central New York Affiliate of Susan G Komen for the Cure, works with a number of health care providers who provide those who are uninsured or underinsured access to a number of cancer screenings including mammograms, breast exams, colorectal fit tests, pap smears, and more.

“The program sounded like it would help, so hoping it was still in place I contacted the Health Center again was given the phone number and name of the program’s coordinator, Carolyn Handville,” explained Pascarella. “When I called, I got her voice mail telling me that she was out of the office but would return all calls Monday when she returned. Naturally, I was skeptical and thought, well I’ll never hear from them. However, I couldn’t have been further from the truth because first thing Monday morning Carolyn returned my call! She was extremely helpful as she thoroughly explained how the program would be able to help me. She even had me scheduled for a mammogram that very week.”

“Following the mammogram, which came back as suspicious but inconclusive, Carolyn scheduled me for a sonogram, which was also inconclusive. Carolyn then put me in touch with Dr. Dawn Holman, she and her husband, Dr. Alec Sokolovsky, had recently relocated to Oswego from South Carolina and were part of the Cancer Services Program Partnership. Following a sterotactic biopsy it was confirmed that I had breast cancer.  Thanks to the knowledge and surgical abilities of Dr. Holman she was able to remove 21 lymph nodes, seven of which were cancerous. Dr. Holman was wonderful and the help I received from OCO’s Cancer Services Program Partnership was remarkable,” said Pascarella.

Handville said that Pascarella’s story is a perfect example of how the Cancer Services Program Partnership is designed to help those who need it.

“Early protection is the key to surviving cancer. I can’t stress enough how important it is for everyone to receive his or her necessary cancer screenings. The screenings we offer are available to those who are uninsured or underinsured, so there really is no excuse not to be screened. Once Candace contacted me I was able to refer her to a specialist who was able to provide her with the health care she needed. We work with a number of highly skilled health care providers. In Candace’s case we were lucky to have just partnered with Dr. Holman and Dr. Sokolovsky in our partnership. With Dr. Holman’s expertise in breast cancer surgery we were able to have Candace receive her care right here in Oswego County rather than traveling to Onondaga County. Dr. Holman is a strong supporter of the Susan G Komen for the Cure and was happy to serve our community and join our partnership. We are very fortunate to count Dr. Holman and Dr. Sokolovsky among our list of partners,” said Handville.

Once Pascarella was diagnosed with cancer, Handville was able to enroll her in the Medicaid Cancer Treatment Program, a federal Medicaid program that provides comprehensive coverage at 250% of the poverty guidelines and is not affected by additional resources.

With her husband on disability and her not being able to work, the program made it possible for Pascarella to obtain the health care she needed.

“Carolyn walked me through what I thought would be unobtainable hurdles and assisted someone who because of circumstances not fully in their control, had severe financial difficulties. If it was not for Carolyn’s assistance and the financial support this program provides, I would not have been able to move forward with my treatments, and I may not even be alive today. I owe my life to OCO’s Cancer Services Program Partnership and urge others to take advantage of this wonderful program,” said Pascarella.

“I knew about the program and did not take advantage of it until it was almost too late. Hopefully my story will inspire others to start getting the cancer screenings they need. I encourage those who are neglecting their screenings because of their insurance status to contact OCO’s Cancer Services Program Partnership and learn how the program can help them. I can’t say enough about Carolyn and everyone involved with the program. They are some of the most caring and compassionate people I know.  Even though they serve hundreds of people each year they always treat you as a person and not just a number. Carolyn has stayed in touch with me throughout my entire ordeal. The support and concern that they have shown me has been instrumental in helping me keep a positive attitude. Before you are diagnosed, cancer is just an ugly word. After you are diagnosed there is a flood of emotions. Your body is going through many changes and you ask yourself why me…how did this happen? You tend to feel very alone. However the support I have received from this program and the many wonderful people that I have met during this journey have helped alleviate that feeling of loneliness,” added Pascarella.

The support aspect of the program is something that Handville would like to build upon in the future.

“Once someone is enrolled in the program I maintain regular contact with our consumers. I work with approximately 450 people a year and do my best to know each of them by their voice. I am happy to say that there are a number of cancer survivors who have gone through our program. I would like to establish a cancer survivor support group that would not only provide support to each other but together as a team, we could reach out to the community and encourage others to begin receiving their cancer screenings on a regular basis regardless of their health insurance status. According to the American Cancer Society, approximately 82 women are diagnosed with breast cancer each year in Oswego County and unfortunately 14 of them will die from the disease. Regular screenings are essential as early detection is the key to survival. I can’t say that I know what Candace and our other cancer survivors are going through, but I do know the benefits this program offers and I will do whatever I can to help them receive the health care they need. Hearing Candace compliment our program is very rewarding. It makes me want to get up and go to work because I know that I am doing something good and positively affecting someone’s life,” said Handville.

Thanks to OCO’s Cancer Services Program Partnership Pascarella is alive today.

She is currently undergoing chemotherapy treatments and will soon begin radiation.

She is a cancer survivor because of one phone call.

“Do it now. Start receiving your cancer screening as soon as possible before it’s too late,” added Pascarella.

For more information on OCO’s Cancer Services Program Partnership, call Handville at 342-0888 ext 1455.

OCO is a private, non-profit agency that has been supporting communities throughout Oswego County since 1966 and touches the lives of more than 20,000 people annually.

OCO is a United Way of Greater Oswego County member agency.

For more information, visit www.oco.org