Our Patients. Their Stories. Alejandra Casco
It was nice to see friendly faces whenever I came in...an important part of the process.Alejandra Casco
Alejandra Casco, 36, recalls the moment she was diagnosed with melanoma in 2010.
“While I was praying, I entered into a moment of gratitude and gratefulness for all the good things I had been given in this life. And something just happened; I had a strong presence knowing that I wasn’t going to die against all the facts. I believed the truth in my heart,” says Casco. “It happened very quickly. I was diagnosed with Stage IV melanoma, with a six percent survival rate."
Casco says her provider, Dr. Marc Ernstoff (no longer at Dartmouth-Hitchcock), along with all of her nurses at Dartmouth-Hitchcock (D-H), have been incredible throughout her care.
“I felt very comfortable with Dr. Ernstoff. He was very kind. The nurses did their job well. It was nice to see friendly faces whenever I came in. It was an important part of the process. They never just put the needle in and walked away, they interacted with you,” says Casco. “It became my second home. I didn't know it would be a five year journey but I was grateful to be surrounded by them.”
After receiving intensive treatments of Interleukin-2 (IL2) Immunotherapy for melanoma that spread to her organs, soft tissue and bone, Casco was offered the opportunity to enroll in a clinical trial which gave her accessibility to an experimental treatment. In March of 2011, she started the clinical trial to treat a tumor in her lung. It started to grow due to a mutation in the BRAF gene, which helps the cells grow and divide quickly. Within a few months, the tumor shrunk and left what was believed to be scar tissue. Alejandra continued successfully with this clinical trial with little to no side effects and without any cancer recurrence. She ended all treatments in January 2015.
Casco was born in Honduras, and moved to Manchester, NH when she was 10 years old. She comes from a very close-knit family, and says she remains connected to her extended family in Honduras. The music and culture is still a big part of her roots.
When she moved to the U.S. with her family, church life was part of Casco’s upbringing.
Dressed in white
and lying in a white bed
in the center of a glass room
atop a skyscraper
I wake and see a large, single star
overhead, so near
I sit up. As if it has been waiting
for me to notice it,
the star explodes into many stars.
I see each one individually
as each new star explodes
into many other stars,
multiplying into trillions of stars,
lighting up and filling the sky
and beyond. I wake up
laughing—filled with joy, peace
and the pleasure of God.
by Alejandra Casco
“Even though many years went by without practicing my faith, in my weak love, my spirit was willing to receive the grace that gave me strength to follow through with the treatments. I also recognized the need to pursue inner healing of the heart, which I needed during this learning process,” Casco says. “I struggled to find joy in meeting new people and in trying to fit in because of the walls I had put up in my heart from a loss of trust in God's unfailing love. Eventually I would discover a secret place for being happy in whatever may come. I learned that hope always returns when I remember His unfailing love is always there embracing me. That love strengthens me to feel alive and to renew my spirit for a new day.”
Her turning point
Casco says she avoided talking about death, realizing that she couldn’t change her situation by being negative.
“I just didn’t speak about death. I didn’t meditate on that. You have to do battle with it and make a choice. I would just make myself look all around me, and I started learning a lot in the process. I started to learn from watching people and listening to them, and hearing their stories – I felt very passionate about being present and available to what they had to say,” she says.
It was then Casco realized she had awakened to who she already was.
A powerful part of Alejandra’s healing has been her participation in a regular writing group with D-H’s Norris Cotton Cancer Center’s Marv Klassen-Landis and Laura Foley. The writing brought out a part of Alejandra that helped her start to journal her walk with what's most important to her and the peace that guides her and comforts her soul.
Her diagnosis and subsequent treatment affected her deeply.
“I guess I was concerned about outside appearances more than discerning my thoughts and my heart. I love colors and textures and see design as part of artistic expression,” she says. “Today, I am learning all over again how important it is to look in people’s eyes and see the beauty that is already in them.”
Get up! Get up! You have a race to run!
With the wind all dressed in green I ran fast
Letting go of my fears that I collected when I ran from them
And fell to my knees, but it was there I stood up and turned to chase
Them like a whirlwind.
by Alejandra Casco
Casco remembers “I saw what was in my heart, and the motives behind my actions, and realized it matters how we communicate and to focus on what is really important. I was so sick I didn’t care what I was wearing, what I had or didn’t have – it didn’t matter. Those things don’t matter. What’s important in this life is learning how to love.”
Her diagnosis and treatment made her realize that her passion in life is to meet people, and let them know that they are loved, and that somebody cares about them.
Because of this, she has since started volunteering at her church, serving the homeless and visiting the elderly.
“They have a lot to teach me. They have so much to offer and teach you about the joy it is to give and to love your neighbor and the gifts that you didn't know you had to offer when you are motivated by love," she says.