Last June, Mark Costello wondered if his first Father’s Day would be his only one.
In March 2012, three weeks before his son was born, Costello, a 34-year-old police officer who never smoked a day in his life, was diagnosed with Stage 4 lung cancer.
This year on Father’s Day, Costello, of West Brownsville, will join his 1-year-old son, Mark Jr., his wife, Beth, and a team of family and friends in the Pennsylvania Lung Cancer Partnership’s “Free to Breathe” 5K walk at the North Park Boathouse in Allison Park to raise awareness and funds for the fight against lung cancer.
“I feel good. I’m really looking forward to this walk. I plan on being here for many more Father’s Days,” said Costello, a full-time officer for the California University of Pennsylvania campus police and a part-time California Borough police officer.
Costello, who puts his life on the line every day to help others, now is hoping others will try to save his by donating to support lung cancer research.
So far, “Team Curing Costello” has raised more than $5,500 for the walk, making it the top team heading into race day.
Costello’s biggest inspiration to beat cancer is his red-headed son, Mark Jr., whom Costello affectionately calls his sidekick.
“He’s my little buddy. I love him so much; there’s nothing better than him. Everywhere I go, I take him with me. When I go down to the police department, Marky runs around the police station. He knows everyone there,” said Costello, who spent the past year at home and bonded with Mark Jr. while he underwent treatment.
Costello’s ordeal began in July 2011, when he developed a persistent cough. From July through December 2011, he took over-the-counter medications, antibiotics and steroids to combat the cough and underwent breathing treatments at a local clinic. In February 2012, he was admitted to Uniontown Hospital with pneumonia and a pulmonologist examined lung tissue to determine if he had histoplasmosis, a mold that grows in the lungs. Those tests turned out to be negative.
Costello, who was working 18 hours a day – in addition to his police work, he taught criminal justice at Westmoreland Community College and operated a housing rental business, Costello Wooten Property Management LLC – thought he was run down from his busy schedule.
But in March 2012, the day after he painted Mark Jr.’s nursery room, doctors called to tell him that a chest X-ray showed he had a collapsed lung and urged him to rush to the emergency room, where additional tests were run.
On March 29, Costello was told that he had adenocarcinoma with KRAS mutation, a form of non-small cell lung cancer that usually begins in tissues that lie near the outer parts of the lungs and may be present for a long time before it causes symptoms and is diagnosed.
“Our families’ worlds were turned completely upside down,” said Beth, who will celebrate her fourth wedding anniverary with Costello on Aug. 29. “We were a young family expecting our first baby, and we get news like that. But it makes you realize what’s important, and the things you’d be upset about on a daily basis, like a clean house, don’t matter anymore. Mark is a very different person now. I think he’s more sensitive, and he has an outlook on life where he doesn’t stress about things. What’s important is family and friends, and there’s no point in worrying about things that don’t matter. I do feel that we’re the closest to perfect as we can possibly get as a result of this. I’m amazed: Mark never complains.”
Costello went to UPMC-Presbyterian hospital for aggressive treatment that included chemotherapy and participation in a clinical trial, and two months ago he underwent surgery to remove the right bottom lobe and several lymph nodes from his right lung. Typically, doctors don’t perform surgery on Stage 4 cancer patients, but his surgeon wanted to take an aggressive approach. Costello also uses natural remedies and alternative supplements such as shark cartilage and kercumin, and every morning he drinks a concoction that includes celery and cucumber juice.
And Costello rediscovered his faith. The family attends Calvary Church of the Nazarene in California every Sunday.
Costello knows he is in a battle. Each year in the U.S., more than 228,000 people are diagnosed with lung cancer, and nearly 160,000 die of the disease. Lung cancer takes more lives than breast, prostate and colon cancers combined, and it accounts for 27 percent of all cancer deaths. Right now, the five-year survival rate is 16 percent. But there are success stories, and Costello plans to be one of them.
On June 18, Costello is scheduled for a PET scan to determine if he is cancer-free or if there is cancer in his body.
His oncologists have told him that he responded well to chemotherapy and that they believe surgery successfully removed the cancer.
“I truly believe God has healed me. I wouldn’t have come this far without my faith, my family and my friends who stuck by me,” said Costello. “My doctor said there was a 50/50 shot with the clinical trial. It’s all ouside-the-box treatment, and there are no statistics to support what we’re doing. But I want to know that I did everything possible, everything that I can do to beat this,” said Costello.
But before he gets his test results, Costello is going to enjoy Father’s Day with his son.
“I have no extravagant plans for my life. My biggest plan is to spend time with my family. It’s always been important to me,” said Costello. “I just want to watch Marky grow.”
To donate to Free to Breathe and Curing Team Costello, visit the website at freetobreathe.com and click on the “donate” link and follow the directions. Race coordinator Teresa O’Rourke, whose father, a non-smoker, died of lung cancer in 1996, said donations will be accepted until July 31.
“People assume that people who get lung cancer are smokers and we need to get the word out that that’s not the case and get rid of the stigma,” said O’Rourke.