‘Working at life’

Motorcycle accident, cancer haven’t stopped Cortez woman

Donna Pharo at the beginning of her cancer treatment. Enlargephoto

Courtesy Photo

Donna Pharo at the beginning of her cancer treatment.

Imagine being thankful for cancer.

That’s where two-time cancer survivor Donna Pharo (Fair-o) is.

Pharo, who was diagnosed with ovarian cancer following a motorcycle/vehicle crash in 2009 and later breast cancer, has overcome the diseases and is living one day at a time.

“I’m working at life,” said Pharo, 58.

On July 24, 2009, Pharo and her husband Brent were riding a brand-new motorcycle to the Bar D Wranglers in Durango when they ran into the back of a Cadillac that was stopped and waiting to turn left. The turn signal and brake lights on the Cadillac weren’t working.

A vehicle was approaching from the opposite direction, and a another vehicle was on their right. By the time they realized the Cadillac was stopped, it was too late.

Her helmet saved her life, Pharo said. “My brand-new cowboy boots saved my foot,” she said. The boots were punctured and shredded.

She impacted the Cadillac with her left shoulder and flipped. In addition to a shoulder injury, a bicep was torn and her right heel was hurt. In spite of that, she crawled on top of her husband and “prayed like a mad woman.” This included “every Scripture I learned” as a child. “I was calling on angels, help and God’s grace,” the Cortez native said.

Brent Pharo was air-lifted to a St. Mary’s Hospital in Grand Junction, while Donna was in Southwest Memorial Hospital in Cortez with severe road rash and multiple injuries.

Ovarian cancer

Donna’s physician, Dr. Karla Demby, called for a CAT scan and internal X-rays in order to rule out internal injuries, Pharo said.

They revealed a pelvic mass, which was “probably nothing,” Pharo remembers.

A biopsy revealed cancer in one of her ovaries, however.

“Had I not had the accident, the ovarian cancer would not have been revealed,” she said.

Demby called the situation “fortuitous,” Pharo said.

Two months prior to the crash, Pharo had been given a “clean exam,” she said.

Two weeks after the biopsy, Pharo’s ovaries were removed. By the end of the year she had a hysterectomy and shoulder surgery. At one point, she had six surgeries in 22 days.

A surgeon in Albuquerque told Pharo that the motorcycle accident saved her life, she recalled.

The year 2010 was spent healing her emotions and body.

Meanwhile, Brent Pharo had no recollection of the crash. He had titanium screws inserted into his rotator cuff.

Breast cancer

In April 2011, Donna went to see Dr. Demby for a mammogram. It revealed a spot about the size of a thumb on one of her breasts.

A few days later the biopsy came back. She had cancer.

Donna decided to get a lumpectomy in order to save her breast.

Then came radiation therapy, where a medical team discussed the best way to manage the impending radiation.

A doctor told Pharo, “Has anyone told you the type of breast cancer you have?” Turns out she had “triple-negative” breast cancer, a rare and aggressive form that only makes up 5 to 10 percent of all breast cancers.

To call it an aggressive form of cancer is an understatement.

Triple negative cancer doubles every 100 days, Pharo said.

After receiving the result of a micro-biopsy, a Durango doctor, Cynthia Cathcart, recommended chemotherapy before radiation.

Cathcart, who happened to be personally familiar with triple-negative cancer, told Pharo she was “going to throw the kitchen sink” at her in an effort to ward off the cancer.

Pharo received four chemotherapy treatments between June and August 2011. She lost her hair 12 days after the first chemical infusion, but continued to work out.

The fourth treatment “knocked me out,” Pharo said. “Food tastes weird. Your five senses go haywire.”

Radiation came next in order to pinpoint the cancer.

After a doctor’s recommendation, Pharo received internal and external radiation: 28 external treatments over eight weeks, followed by three internal treatments over four days. The final one came on Nov. 11, 2011, or 11-11-11, an easy date to remember.

Pharo notes that one is not considered “cancer-free” until it’s been five years.

She undergoes a physical exam every month.

Her hero

“My husband is my hero,” she said of Brent, an insurance underwriter. “He cared for me night and day. He protected me from anyone who wanted to talk negatively. He would not allow negative conversation. He surrounded me with an atmosphere of health. He gave me foot rubs every night. He prayed for me night and day. He fixed my food and drove me out of town (to the doctor). He took phone calls for me when I couldn’t hold the phone.”

In short, “He never saw me as anything but healthy and living,” Pharo said of Brent, 60. “He loved me when I was bald. His faith didn’t waver.”

The Pharos’ only child, Tiffany Locker, came from Redding, Calif. to help. “She re-did four rooms of our house so my environment was fresh and comfortable. She filled our refrigerator with home-made food.”

Pharo participated in the Relay for Life on July 20 this year.

She signed up only two weeks prior to the event, raised $1,000 and recruited seven friends — who also had overcome various forms of cancer — and 33 caregivers or supporters.

The women, officially known as “God’s Girls,” walked laps at Parque de Vida from 6 to 10 p.m.


Donna has three passions.

“I’m passionate about early detection,” she said. “It saves lives. If something in your body is weird for over two weeks, get it checked out. Don’t live in fear. Be your own advocate.”

Pharo also favors research. She noted that on Oct. 23, she learned there is a connection between ovarian and breast cancer.

“The next generation will benefit from the research,” she said.

Her third and final passion is hope.

“I am full of faith and hope, and I don’t live in fear. I want to see my (four) grandkids get married and have kids,” she said.

Pharo tracks all of the food and beverages that she consumes in an effort to lose weight and live healthy. She works out five to six days a week at the Cortez Recreation Center, which has helped her mentally and physically.

“Cancer is not my life,” she said.


Following her cancer treatment, Donna Pharo had to deal with the loss of her hair. Enlargephoto

Courtesy Photo

Following her cancer treatment, Donna Pharo had to deal with the loss of her hair.

Donna Pharo poses for a recent photo. Enlargephoto

Sam Green/Cortez Journal

Donna Pharo poses for a recent photo.

Donna Pharo, pictured waving to the camera, participated in the local Relay for Life event with a team that included seven cancer survivors. Enlargephoto

Courtesy photo

Donna Pharo, pictured waving to the camera, participated in the local Relay for Life event with a team that included seven cancer survivors.