Cancer survivor now fights second battle with people who say they can’t wear masks

FOX Files

ST. CHARLES, Mo. – Stores mandating masks are being criticized by customers who say they won’t shop where they have to wear a mask. Those same stores are also finding customers who seek them out for taking a stand.

Peace Love Coffee and The Vegan Deli & Butcher Shop on Main Street in St. Charles took a stand on Facebook – wear a mask or you will not be served. They were surprised by the backlash from people who said they would take their business elsewhere.

They also met customers like Cassie D’Arpino, who made their stand worth it.

“I almost died in February and when you’re faced with your own mortality like that, you suddenly have this real fire, this urge to get out and live life to the absolute fullest,” D’Arpino said.

But D’Arpino says doctors told her she’s at extreme risk for COVID-19. She has a weakened immune system after fighting stage four breast cancer. She thanks businesses who mandate masks, but says some customers belittle her online, saying, “Your health issues aren’t my problem and that really breaks my heart because I didn’t ask to have cancer. I didn’t ask to be dealt this poor hand when it comes to my immune system, but my situation could easily be yours.”

D’Arpino visited Peace Love Coffee on Saturday to show her support for a business standing up for her.

Chef Chris Bertke, co-owner of Vegan Deli & Butcher Shop, says he’s received direct messages from people angry about his rule.

“Saying I’m infringing on their right to breathe and things like that,” he said. “It’s like, c’mon, put a mask on; you can breathe.”

Bertke just opened in partnership with Jason Granger this month. They’ve received more thank you messages than attacks.

“People come from all over the City of St. Louis, from Belleville, from everywhere, and I think we’re making them feel a lot more comfortable,” Bertke said.

Granger added: “That justifies the effort that we put into it because we do have to turn people away that refuse to put the masks on, but we’re doing it for everyone.”

Granger said he recently had to escort three people from the store who refused to comply.

D’Arpino says if there’s anybody who would be incapable of wearing a mask, it would be her.

“My breast cancer metastasized to my lungs, my bones, my breasts this past February. The tumor load in my lungs was extremely heavy,” she said. “And I can wear a mask perfectly fine. I think in sharing my story, more people are able to empathize with a different perspective.”

D’Arpino says she’s changed a few people’s minds but there are still those who tell her she’s overreacting. If she looks back five years from now and finds she was overreacting? She’s ok with that.

“The worst I’m out is really nothing,” she said. “I wore a mask for other people and at least, you know, my heart was in the right place – my intentions were good.”

Cassie D’Arpino only recently opened up about her health struggles.  She’s engaged with people on social media for months but decided to open up with this detailed Facebook post that she hoped would give people a different perspective.

I’ve waited to share this update, but I feel like the right time is now.
After enjoying one year of remission, the big “C” came back with a vengeance this past February. (2020 nightmare-fuel). Progression went from 0-60 mph: Spread to the breast, lungs, and multiple bones in the spine, hip, ribs. Hell, it was in bones I didn’t even know I had. The inoperable tumor load in the left lung is what caused a massive pleural effusion which landed me five days in the hospital; 5 1/2 liters of fluid in total were eventually drained.
Google “malignant pleural effusion prognosis” and you’ll understand how serious this situation really was.
Soon after my release from the hospital, COVID-19 burst on the scene. While the initial guidance was certainly muddy, ultimately the majority of experts agreed that wearing a mask was one of the best ways to mitigate spread. “Library” research is something I specialize in professionally, having been paid to do this for clients nationally and internationally. After doing my own deep-dive on the topic, it seemed clear that based on the verified information at hand: While not perfect, wearing a mask helps contain the virus. I started wearing a mask while in public (seemed like the low-hanging fruit).
I then started reading sentiments such as:
“YOUR crappy immune system isn’t MY problem. STAY HOME if you have a health condition.”
Where do I begin? If this is your thought process:
Firstly. Congratulations on winning the immuno-lottery. I, along with myriad others, unfortunately did not. My situation could easily one day be yours, though.
Secondly. When faced with your own mortality, as I was during that period, the desire to get out and live life fully is amplified. Demanding I spend the rest of my foreseeable and possibly limited future indoors because you, the self-proclaimed epitome of health, can’t be bothered to take simple (and temporary) precautions to make public spaces a safer environment for us all…can you see how that might be hurtful and frustrating to someone in my position?
Thirdly. I fully recognize that in five years, we might look back at this time and, ope! — Turned out, new information uncovered by way of scientific method found that COVID-19 wasn’t as deadly as originally believed. Or, maybe the conspiracy theorists were RIGHT — Bill Gates was behind the madness, that crazy computer nerd!
However, I base my decisions on the best information at hand in the here and now. I’ll continue to err on the side of caution and wear a mask, (lungs ripe with cancer and all!)…not as much for me, but for others.
If it turns out my efforts were moot? Then some of you will have the satisfaction of being right. But, please know my heart was in the right place. I hope to be remembered for that.
Pro-mask, Anti-mask…whatever. My official stance is Pro-empathy, and I hope it’s yours too.
We won’t all agree on the best way to navigate the coming months of this pandemic. That’s a given, and I accept the current reality.
But, can we at least commit to better empathizing with people in circumstances different from our own? Not just as it relates to COVID-19; I’m talking about life in general. To ask, “What can I do to make someone else’s day better?” To flip the script and work to see the plight of others. To extend a hand, even in knowing that doing so might require our own discomfort or sacrifice.
I’m far, far from perfect in this regard and I see the growth ahead of me. I believe that acknowledging our own imperfections is the first step in the right direction.
And for those wondering…I’m doing much better now. I had this portrait taken a few weeks after the pleural effusion, and it makes me feel like an empowered bad-ass. Thank you to everyone who has checked in this year to extend your thoughts, love, and prayers.
Live by the actions you’d want others to someday take for you.

Cassie D’Arpino via Facebook

Interview: D’Arpino discusses her fears and acknowledges she doesn’t have all of the answers.

Interview: D’Arpino talks about why it’s important for her to leave home even with her low immune system.

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