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Astoria resident defeats breast cancer at 75 years old

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Not every woman survives breast cancer at 75 years old. Meet Lydia Simbulan, an Astoria resident who was diagnosed with breast cancer in February 2016 and declared cancer-free a little over a year later. Simbulan attributes her recovery to the knowledge and care of her medical team and her faith in God.

Simbulan emigrated from the Philippines to the United States in 1990 and has lived in Astoria for years. She is an active member of Immaculate Conception Church Astoria, where she serves as vice president and chair of the outreach program and manages food drives.

The cancerous tumor was discovered in her right breast during a routine checkup. Up until then, Simbulan said she had not been hospitalized outside of giving birth to her three children, and the only medication she took was for blood pressure.

“I was so healthy,” she said. “I didn’t have any problems, even though I’m old already. The doctor was so surprised.”

After the discovery, Simbulan underwent treatment for more than a year, including chemotherapy and proton therapy — a unique and expensive approach that concentrates radiation only on the tumorous cells in order to protect vital organs and tissues surrounding the area.

Her chemotherapy began at the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in Manhattan in April 2016, and the treatment process lasted a year. Simbulan said she eventually experienced negative side effects from the chemotherapy, which turned out to be an allergic reaction. The treatment center was able to provide another medication, however, which she described as “all natural.” This time, her body accepted it.

Simbulan also underwent surgery to remove the tumor, and afterwards her doctor recommended she undergo proton radiation therapy, which meant six weeks of daily treatment. Simbulan said her doctor referred her to ProCure Proton Therapy Center in Somerset, N.J., which is one of 25 proton therapy centers nationwide, according to the National Association for Proton Therapy. Simbulan said she was randomly selected to undergo treatment as one of 500 candidates.

Her family was concerned about the trip to New Jersey. The journey was close to two hours every day, and Simbulan did not have a car or anyone to accompany her daily. It was September, and the weather was getting colder. Her son, who works in healthcare, was afraid that the intensity of the treatment would leave Simbulan susceptible to other illnesses. They were worried that she would experience negative side effects, pain and fatigue.

Simbulan prayed. Through Simbulan’s medical insurance, her doctor arranged a car to transport her and a hotel she could stay at some nights if the travel exhausted her. She decided to go.

“I told them, I prayed again and trusted the Lord,” she said. She talked to her son. “Son, I said, no one is to be blamed. This is my decision.”

Treatment would start each morning and sometimes Simbulan did not arrive home until after dark because of traffic. An elder at her church prayed for her the night before she began therapy, and she didn’t experience any negative symptoms or physical weakness during the six weeks.

“It was just like a normal (treatment),” Simbulan said. “No blisters, nothing. When I came back to the doctor, everything was OK.”

By April 2017, Simbulan said she had finished chemotherapy and was declared cancer-free. She said the staff and medical team at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center are her angels.

“When they told me I had cancer, I didn’t have any fear,” she said. “Sometimes I forgot that I had it. Everything I trust to God.”

Simbulan said she was supported by her family and church community throughout the process. Members brought her food and offered her rides to meetings.

“I could feel the love of everyone,” she said.

Grace Bernardo, an elder at the Immaculate Conception prayer group Simbulan attends weekly, said she testified to feeling secure and peaceful during the diagnosis and treatment.

“When we heard of her condition, our first reaction was to pray,” Bernardo said.

Bernardo said the prayer group supported her by checking in on her, calling, asking how she was doing and adding her requests and updates to their text message intercessory chain. She noticed a difference in Simbulan’s demeanor after she was declared cancer-free, saying Simbulan changed from being reserved at their meetings to “bubbly and high-spirited.”

When Simbulan walked into the prayer group and announced she no longer had cancer, the room broke out in clapping.

“We received that great news and it was a hallelujah time!” Bernardo said.

Posted 12:00 am, October 17, 2017
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