Hi, my name is Angela Szczepanski. I am a wife, a mother of two sons. I am a daughter, a sister, an aunt, a cousin, a friend. Until recently, my life was quite normal and hectic: raising a family, working full-time with very few days or evenings off. Both my parents and in-laws are elderly and seem to need more assistance in their daily lives. My husband and I have been brought up as Catholics and we have tried to do the same with our sons. We attend church on Sundays and most Holy days. Our daily lives were full of obstacles, but being a close family we would always help each other out, and quite often we would say, "As long as we have our health that's all that matters."
In January of 1995, I developed a sore throat. I went to the doctor, and he gave me a prescription. Three weeks later, the sore throat persisted and I was feeling weaker. I took a different prescription. By May the sore throat was affecting my ability to eat, sleep, speak, work and care for my family and parents. But my attitude was very positive and I knew all would be fine.
In June of 1995, further tests revealed that I had cancer in my neck. When I heard the diagnosis, it seemed for a moment as though my busy life came to a screeching stop. The force of this sent my family and friends tumbling and scattering in confusion in such a way that they became almost unrecognizable. This was even more unbearable than the diagnosis. That evening I went to Mass and prayed to God that He would help me through this, if it was His will, and give me strength. After Mass, I spoke to our parish priest, who had recently been assigned to our parish, and asked if he would say a special prayer for me. He told me that he always prays for the people in our parish especially those that are sick and suffering, that we all pray for each other at every Mass, and that God hears our prayers. His words were like a bolt of lightning but very calming, and although I knew this and had prayed often for other people, I had never been the one that was sick and frightened. I knew in my heart that God was with me and I should not be afraid. He had given me strength.
After Mass I spoke to my husband and my children and told them that everything would work out fine and that under no circumstances were my parents to be told, for it would cause them too much pain and anguish.
My chemotherapy treatments started July 13, l995. Within one week of my first treatment, I could talk, eat, work and smile. I knew everything would be fine. My family, friends and even the doctors could not believe how well I was doing. When anyone asked if there was anything they could do, I would smile and say "Yes, could you say a prayer for me?" They smiled back and said that they could. My treatments ended on November 1, l995. I was in remission!
In June of 1996, I had an unusual earache and thought I should have it checked out. My surgeon said it didn't sound right and sent me for another biopsy. Within two weeks I was rediagnosed with cancer and referred to Princess Margaret Hospital in Toronto, a hospital that specializes in cancer treatment. Two weeks after that I began a more aggressive form of chemotherapy, as my chances of being cured had been greatly reduced. There was no other hope. I assured my doctors and caregivers that if they did their best, all would be fine. They thought that I was in denial.
Bone Marrow Transplant
The chemotherapy didn't seem to do much good so,along with radiotherapy,the doctors recommended a bone marrow transplant. I prayed to God to guide the doctors and help them with my care. On February 13, 1997 I was hospitalized for the transplant. It was a risky procedure that made me very weak and ill.
Because of the seriousness of my disease and treatment, I felt I should tell my parents. It was one of the most painful moments in my life. When I started talking, I asked them not to interrupt me until I was through and then they could ask me questions. My mother sat and listened and when I was finished, she limped over to me, took me in her arms looked me in the eye and said, "I will pray for you." My mother only went to church for weddings and funerals but I knew by her words that God had touched her heart. Once again I felt a great calm come over me. I knew all would be fine.
I was in the hospital for one month. I returned home weak and medicated. I had to rely on my family for everything. I had never done this in my life. I was still receiving three blood transfusions a week and couldn't walk unassisted, but I knew I would be stronger with each day, although when I looked in the mirror I could not recognize myself. I had lost so much weight: I weighed only 105 lbs. I had no hair, no energy, no appetite, no thoughts and I had lost my hearing. I only knew God was with me and to Him it didn't matter how I looked. He gave me strength and love.
Slowly my health improved and within five months I was able to care for myself. However, the radiation took it's toll on my teeth. My normally healthy teeth began to ache and then chip away, cutting my tongue and my mouth. Eating, talking and, most of all, smiling, became very difficult. My dentist filed down the sharp edges but this provided only temporary relief.
The situation worsened daily. I returned to the hospital dentist who handled post-radiation and post-chemo cases. Her assessment caused me great concern. All my teeth had to be extracted. In addition to that, not only was I going to lose all my teeth, but also none of the cost would be covered by my medical insurance. I was in a state of shock. This was a great hardship - physically, emotionally and financially.
I was told that the extractions could not be done all at once. Because of the radiation treatments, my gums and bone might not heal. Therefore they could risk removing only one tooth at a time. I could not even imagine how I would get through this. Apparently this had never happened to other cancer patients and no one could say for certain whether the outcome would be successful.
I quickly slid into a state of depression and confusion. I could not imagine how, having survived a bone marrow transplant, I was now to lose all my teeth. I went for a second opinion, and a third, and it seemed that no one had any idea how to treat my case. No one was very reassuring about the long term results.
My self-esteem and my confidence were practically nonexistent. I could not look at myself in the mirror. I could not bring myself to talk to friends or family without hiding my mouth. I was referred to an oral surgeon for another assessment, and it took all the strength and courage I had to keep my appointment. He was very kind and caring, but I could tell, when he looked at my x-rays and then at my teeth, that there was great concern. But he felt that he could extract all the upper teeth and the four lower front teeth at one time, in the hospital day surgery. He scheduled the operation for three weeks later.
I still did not have a regular dentist to make my dentures, nor could I accept that this was happening to me. I was in the pits of despair. I had no more energy to deal with my condition. I remember clearly lying on my bed not knowing what to do next, whom to trust, nor how to pay for all this. At this point, I began talking to God as if He were in the room with me. I asked Him to please handle this, because I didn't know what to do. I had no energy. I was desperate. I had not cried throughout all the previous ordeals, but now it seemed I could not stop.
True Healing Begins
At that moment, my phone rang. It was my oral surgeon personally asking me how I was doing and had I found a dentist yet? I told him that I had not and that I had my doubts whether I would be able to because I was very depressed and in a lot of pain. He then said, "Call Dr. Michael Rozeluk. He is a miracle worker. He might be able to have everything completed on time for the date of the surgery"
I called Dr. Rozeluk's office, and was told that I couldn't have an appointment for at least a week. This didn't surprise me at all, as I was already convinced that he would be like all the other dentists. I lay down again wondering how I could possibly make it through another week. Half an hour later I received a call from Dr. Rozeluk's office, asking if could I come in the next day, as they had a cancellation. I couldn't believe it! I accepted right away.
The next day, while I was sitting in the patient's chair, waiting for Dr. Rozeluk, I felt very nervous and scared. I didn't know if I had the courage to open my mouth to show him my decaying teeth. It was very embarrassing for me. He entered the room and greeted me with a warm smile and said, "You believe in Angels!" These were his first words to me. All I could do was nod my head and instantly I began to sob and sob. Through all the tears, I tried to explain that I never cry and couldn't understand why I couldn't stop. Dr. Rozeluk just smiled and said that it was good to cry and not to worry about it.
He started telling me about his car accident and all the difficulties he had been through and about his healing at Garabandal, Spain. All the while I cried and cried and I didn't know why. Then Dr. Michael showed me the medallion of Our Lady of Garabandal. My tears stopped and a feeling of calm came over me. All I could think about was kissing the medallion. Then Dr. Michael asked me if I would like to kiss it. I was so surprised. I thought he must be reading my mind. At that moment I knew without a shadow of a doubt that I wanted Dr. Rozeluk to proceed with all my dental needs and that all would be fine. I felt so strongly about my decision that I was not even concerned about how I was going to pay for it.
Dr. Rozeluk also told me about attending Mass at St. Josaphat's Cathedral the following day. After the Mass there would be anointing of the sick and healing prayers for anyone who wanted to go.
When I returned home from the dental office, I was still trying to get used to this wonderful feeling that everything was going to be just fine, when my phone rang. I could hardly believe my good fortune. A job that I had been working on was going to be completed and there would be enough money to pay the dentist and then some. All my fears were being lifted. My smile was returning. I couldn't wait to attend Mass the next day. I knew in my heart that on this painful, fearful, lonely, dark path that I had been on, I had never been alone. God had guided me and protected me.
The Cathedral was so beautiful and gave me a feeling of peace. After the Mass I followed everyone to the front of the church where Bishop Danylak was anointing everyone, and Dr. Rozeluk and his wife Helen were praying over people with their medals. I was somewhat shocked when people that were being prayed over by my dentist would fall to the ground and then get up and be just fine. I was next in line and was a little concerned about falling. (I had only seen this on television and wasn't quite sure what to make of it).Before I knew it, while being prayed over, I fell to the ground and it was the most peaceful feeling.
Finally the day of surgery arrived and I felt very confident. I asked the nurse to tape the small relic medal from Garabandal that Dr. Michael had given me to my wristband. She said that was an unusual request but agreed to do it. My surgeon came in to see me and we wished each other well. I also prayed that God would guide his hands and be with us in that operating room.
When I awoke, my brother and sister were there to take me home. They received specific instructions for my care for the next twelve hours. I had no pain, but I assumed that my mouth was still frozen and the pain was sure to come.
My new teeth were in my mouth. I felt a little tired, but I had no swelling, no bleeding and no pain. Several hours later I could eat soup and talk; it was as if nothing happened. I had a prescription for painkillers but I didn't need any. The only pain I had was from smiling too much.
I couldn't stay away from the mirror, and I didn't know if my heart could hold all the joy I was feeling. The day after surgery I felt the happiest I had been in months and I went to my office. My colleagues could not believe their eyes. They commented on how there seemed to be a glow about me. I assured them that there was because I felt that I had been truly blessed.
That afternoon, I called Dr. Rozeluk's office to thank him for all that he had done and to tell him that I was at work. He couldn't believe that it was I on the phone, that I could speak so clearly, that I had no pain, and that I was at work. He said that usually a patient needs at least a week before they heal and can get used to the new teeth and go to work. But we both knew that I had been truly blessed and I had a lot to be thankful for.
At my next appointment, both my oral surgeon and Dr. Rozeluk could not believe how quickly my gums were healing and the big difference this had made in my appearance, but most of all, that I did not require any adjustments. My new teeth fit perfectly!
Over the next few weeks, I had the remaining teeth extracted, and each time, no pain, and no adjustments. By July of that year, all the teeth had been removed and replaced. Dr. Michael said that this had never happened to any of his patients before nor had he ever designed a plate that functioned the way mine did. Dr. Michael had prayed about what to do in my situation, and the idea came to him while he was at Mass. This procedure was totally new.
It is very difficult to put into words how grateful I am. I believe that God is with us at all times, and hears our every prayer and will give us everything we need, not necessarily what we want, although we may not be able to understand it at the time.
During all this time, I continued to attend Mass regularly at St. Josaphat's Cathedral. I enjoyed the feeling of peace and comfort that came over me during Mass and later when Bishop Roman Danylak would anoint me. I had not spoken with the Bishop as yet, but I had heard many wonderful things about him from Dr. Michael and Helen Rozeluk. Sometimes after Mass a group of people would go across the street to the Bishop's house for a chat, prayers and coffee. In early August of 1998 I was saddened to hear that the Bishop was called to Rome and would be leaving in mid-September of that year.
At about the same time, I had to return to the hospital for a follow up CT scan. A week later, on a Wednesday, I returned for the results. While in the waiting room, my anxiety level was soaring, although I knew that the results would come out clear. My doctor came in. We greeted each other and chatted for a few minutes, but I felt that he was avoiding the results of my CT scan. I finally asked him and he said that they had found some spots on my abdomen and that further extensive tests and treatments would be required. I looked my doctor in the eye and said with all sincerity that I felt that the results were not accurate and I did not want any further tests done. Upon my doctor's insistence, I agreed to further detailed testing to be done on my abdomen to be done that Friday.
Wednesday evening I attended Mass and spent a long time thinking about the conversation I had had with my doctor. I had not told anyone what had happened that day. I would not have known what to say. The diagnosis was devastating. As I was kneeling and praying, my thoughts kept going back to the spots on my abdomen, and this was causing me great concern. I thought how great it would be if I could ask the Bishop to also anoint my abdomen.
After Mass ended, we all lined up to be anointed by the Bishop. When I approached the Bishop, he anointed my forehead, ears, nose, throat and palms. Then he looked at me and asked me a question. I thought he said,"Is there anywhere else you would like to be anointed?" But that couldn't be. I said, "Pardon me, I have trouble hearing." The Bishop looked right at me and said, "IS THERE ANYWHERE ELSE YOU NEED TO BE ANOINTED?"
I couldn't believe that the Bishop had read my mind. I was in a daze. I could barely utter a word. Slowly I answered, "YES". The Bishop was looking right at me and asked "Where?" It seemed like everything was happening in slow motion. I rolled up my T-shirt and pointed to my abdomen. The Bishop anointed me and asked that I join the group for coffee at his house after Mass. I could hardly wait for Dr. Michael and Helen to finish praying over people to tell them about the amazing experience I had just had.
There were a few people already at the Bishop's home when we arrived. I was formally introduced to the Bishop. He asked me to sit beside him and share with everyone what had happened in church. As I was telling the others, I was crying tears of joy.
The Bishop then reached over for a small bottle on the table and gave it to me. It was a bottle of Holy Oil and he said I should rub myself with it three times a day. Then he asked everyone to join him and pray over me. I was slain in the Holy Spirit. When I came around, I had a great feeling of peace and calm. The Bishop then came up to me and asked me to drink a spoonful of the Holy Oil which raised some questions and comments among the group. I gladly drank my spoonful, then the Bishop asked everyone to take a spoonful. With some hesitation, they all did.
When I drank the Holy Oil, I felt heat slowly moving from my mouth, down my throat, and down to my abdomen. The Bishop asked me what I felt, and I said to him that my mouth seemed to have an increase in saliva. I had had a dry mouth since recovering from the bone marrow transplant a year earlier.
I can barely remember my drive home as my mind kept going over the events of the day. My emotions had soared from sad to happy to joyful at such an alarming rate of speed that my thoughts could not catch up. I felt that God was truly with me and that I had been blessed.
Two days later, on Friday, I went to the hospital for the scheduled test on my abdomen without any concern in my heart. Once again I held the medallion of Our Lady of Garabandal in my hand and prayed throughout the time of the test. For 35 minutes I had to lie very still. When the test was over, I asked the technician if she saw anything. She replied, "All looks fine to me, but I must show this to the doctor." She soon returned and said that the doctor wanted the test redone to have an even closer look. We had to repeat the whole procedure again. Again I held my medal in my hand and prayed.
When I left the hospital, I knew in my heart that the results would be favorable. Ten days later, I returned for my official results and was told that they were not available yet. We were all waiting for the results and I especially wanted to let the Bishop know before he left for Rome. It took three weeks to finally get a verbal report regarding my results. My doctor reluctantly admitted that the further testing showed my abdomen clear of cancer. It was reassuring to have the doctor confirm what we already knew.
I still attend Mass at the Cathedral almost every Wednesday to pray for others and I continually thank God and the Blessed Virgin Mary for all the graces that have been bestowed on me.
May God Bless You!
July 14, 1999
Note: Angela continues to be cancer-free to this date and has volunteered much of her spare time to help others overcome the fear of cancer. She does this by suggesting that they come to Our Lady and to Jesus. She tells them about Garabandal. Angela encourages them to go to confession and go to Holy Mass and then go to a healing service. She has brought many people to St. Josaphat's in Toronto, Ontario for the healing Mass. Several of these have been healed miraculously by the grace of God. In thanksgiving, this year (1999) she travelled to Rome and Garabandal with the Workers of Our Lady for the beatification of Padre Pio. She knows the power of God. As Padre Pio said "Pray, hope and don't worry".