Sandy Cassanelli (Photo courtesy of Malta House of Care)

When you’re at Mass, look to your left, then, look to your right. Look ahead, then behind.

One of the people you might see smiling back is 44-year-old Sandy Cassanelli. She and her husband, Craig, along with their teenage daughters, are active parishioners at SS. Isidore and Maria. Sandy is the CEO of the small business that she and Craig run together.

By all outward appearances, their lives are just like yours and mine: busy and full.

Yet the smile belies the struggle that Sandy and her family have faced for more than five years. Sandy lives with Stage IV metastatic breast cancer. There is no cure. The average lifespan for people diagnosed with the disease is just three years. She is already two years past the average.

“Metastatic breast cancer is breast cancer that has moved from your breast to your bone, your brain or your organs,” she told News Channel 8 recently.

Sandy was born and raised a Roman Catholic – and she has never wavered in her relationship with Jesus Christ.

“I’ve gone to church on my own, as a teenager and in my twenties, during the week,” she said. “I’ve just always had that faith. I’ve always believed that God will get me through anything.”

Even a terminal cancer diagnosis.

It’s a turn of events that would throw most people’s lives into absolute turmoil. But Sandy Cassanelli isn’t most people. The diagnosis has dimmed neither her faith in God nor her positive outlook on life. She is more determined that ever to dedicate her life to improving the lives of others.

“I feel like [God] given me this disease to tell people to have faith. If you have your faith, you can get through anything. Miracles happen all the time. I look healthy, I feel healthy. I’m beating the odds,” she said. “I believe that I was given this disease to do something with it.”

To that end, she started her own non-profit organization, the Breast Friends Fund, to raise money to support efforts by the Dana Farber Cancer Institute to find a cure for metastatic breast cancer.

To date, she has raised $420,000, every penny of which goes to Dana Farber.

The Cassanelli Family (Photo courtesy of Breast Friends Fund)

Her efforts have garnered notice. Craig nominated her for recognition in the News 8/Nexstar program “Remarkable Women,” a national celebration marking March 2020 as International Women’s Month. Sandy is a Connecticut finalist. Malta House of Care has named Sandy to its “Wonder Women Class of ’20.”

Yet the accolades and recognition are not why Sandy decided to pursue this effort. She’s out to find a cure for metastatic breast cancer. She wants to help her children see that every moment is precious, and we must never, ever lose faith in God.

“Despite my diagnosis, God has been so good to me. I am so blessed!”

The Malta House of Care will honor the “Wonder Women Class of ’20,” including Sandy Cassanelli, at their 10th annual awards ceremony and fundraiser on Thursday, April 23, 2020, 6-8:30 pm, at the Hartford Marriott Downtown Hotel.  All proceeds will support the Malta House of Care Mobile Medical Clinic, an independent non-profit that provides free primary care to uninsured adults on a van that goes to four Hartford-area neighborhoods each week. Click here for reservations.