‘I Feel Great. I Feel Normal.'

After 100 days of isolation, a cancer survivor

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When Alice Ottero visited her oncologist in late May 2006, after a 100-day stint in sterile isolation, she knew the cancer cells could still be circulating in her slim body.

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In March of this year, Alice Ottero was tired, fragile and had no immune system from two rounds of stem cell transplants to remove bone cancer.

Her doctor broke the news -- the bone-marrow biopsy turned up clean.

Six months ago she had Stage 3 bone cancer. Today, she's cancer free.

"It's a miracle," Ottero said. "When the doctor told me there was zero evidence (of cancer), I just sobbed. What else are you going to do?"

The fuzzy, gray hair covering her head still hints of months of strident cancer treatment, including chemotherapy, radiation and a stem-cell transplant. Occasionally Ottero is tired, but that's about it.

"I feel great," the 57-year-old said. "I feel normal."

Ottero's cancer is called multiple myeloma. It attacks the plasma cells of the blood. The malignant cells multiply in bone tissue to create tumors.

The American Cancer Society anticipates 16,570 new cases of Multiple myeloma this year; 32 percent of those diagnosed with the disease have a five-year life expectancy.

At Stage 3, Ottero's cancer couldn't get any worse.

"I was really sick," she said. "(The cancer) was really out of control."

Most multiple myeloma patients endure days of chemotherapy to prepare the body for two rounds of stem-cell transplants.

But she beat the odds -- a single stem-cell treatment killed her cancer.

Modern medicine, combined with God, family, friends, faith and prayer, sealed her recovery.

Ottero and her husband found Christianity 12 years ago. John 1:14 inspired their salvation: "The word became flesh and dwelt among us."

Her faith took on a whole other dimension as she battled cancer.

"Alice's attitude comes from her faith," Michael said. "I saw her demonstrate the faith we have been learning for years. It wasn't just saying you believe it, but showing you believe it."

And instead showing anger at God, she thanked him for her suffering. In early spring 2004, before the diagnosis, she prayed and asked for divine intimacy.

"The only time you're going to get closer to God is through trials," Ottero said. "I wanted a closer relationship with the Lord and he said, ‘OK, this is how I'm going to do it.'"

She and Michael embraced the experience and helped others on the 12th-floor cancer ward of Banner Good Samaritan Medical Center in Phoenix.

"One thing God gave me was boldness," she said. "This cancer thing was an entire ministry."

Ottero learned of the disease after chronic pain in her lower back wouldn't disappear. She went to chiropractors, massage therapists and doctors seeking relief.

The blood tests confirmed a large, inoperable tumor on her spine. She took cancer-fighting medication for a year, but there were no results.

Ottero opted for a stem-cell transplant. The cells are extracted, frozen, and a final dose of chemotherapy bombards the body's immunity, destroying all cells, even the good ones.

Then, the semi-thawed stem cells are reintroduced into the body. From there, the cells multiply, restoring the damaged bone marrow.

My heart was just broken for her," Michael said. "There was a time when she was going through the worst chemo when I would have gone through it for her."

To prevent infection, Ottero, an antique dealer, sat in isolation for 100 days in her home. She wore a mask, accepted few visitors and consumed an antibacterial diet of processed foods.

Ottero's recovery and her faith galvanized the people closest to her.

"I just felt honored to be part of it," said Ottero's best friend, Debbie Rawsthorne. "It was inspiring for me to go through that with her. I feel like I witnessed a miracle."

"It was our church family that was such a great support for us," Michael added. "Not just our church family, but this town poured out so much help. It was just incredible."

-- To reach Felicia Megdal call 474-5251 ext. 116 or e-mail fmegdal@payson.com.

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