My Story by Catherine Baiocco
““Focus on the future…continue this fight…keep learning every day.””
It was the beginning of summer 2013, and my sister and I were on vacation. Schlitterbahn Water Park was her destination of choice so that’s where we went. I experienced more fatigue than normal while we were there but I chalked that up to simply being too old to be at a water park. While we were there, however, I developed horrible bruising along my arms, which concerned me a bit, so I decided to go back to the doctor once we returned home. I had been to the doctor four times in the last two months or so for different symptoms. Headaches, sore throat, swollen lymph nodes, moderate to severe neck pain, and a few others. The doctors attributed things to allergies, stress, even my posture and the demands of my job. They even sent me to physical therapy to try and work out the kinks and soreness in my neck. I am not someone who gets sick, so with all of these symptoms at once I knew something was wrong.
By the time we returned from vacation, my neck pain was almost unbearable. The next evening I decided to take myself to the ER, mostly because my gut just kept telling me to go and not to “just keep dealing with it.” After a few hours at the ER, the doctor informed me that my blood work was abnormal and they would be admitting me overnight to investigate. By the next day, I was told I had Leukemia, specifically AML or Acute Myeloid Leukemia. By that point the pain was so bad I was highly medicated and couldn’t truly comprehend how I went into the hospital for neck pain and now I had Leukemia? Within three days, they had started me on chemotherapy. I had no chance to go home, pack a bag, come up with a plan or mentally prepare myself for how my life was about to change. When I called work, however, they told me not to worry about anything and to take care of what needed to be done, not to worry about work at all. That immediate display of selflessness was a huge weight off my shoulders.
The first few weeks were a blur. They started with three rounds of chemo but never could get me into remission. At that point, we had to start discussing a bone marrow transplant. I was transferred to Baylor University Medical Center in downtown Dallas and met my new doctors with Texas Oncology. I was put on the list for a transplant but continued treatment there in hopes of wiping out the cancer without having to pursue the transplant. For anyone who knows me, they know I am a stubborn person at times so it came as no surprise that my cancer would be stubborn as well.
After 10 rounds of chemotherapy and six rounds of radiation, a donor was found. The total body irradiation dropped my numbers enough to go ahead with the transplant.
My transplant was on October 16, 2013. My new birthday as the hospital staff refers to it. Just shy of one month, I was released on November 10 and moved back in with my parents. While most people might cringe at the thought, including me, it was the best possible place for me to be. My parents were unbelievable care takers and I will never be able to repay them for what they sacrificed and did for me from the beginning of my diagnosis.
Everyone along the way of this continuing journey has been a blessing in their own way. My family was there in whatever form needed or necessary. I have never been one to fully give up control so having them there every second of the way so I could let go of things was beyond my expectations. The way Jason’s Deli, without hesitation, told me not to worry about my job and to focus strictly on my health and recovery stunned me. The company also helped my mom (I had to make her my POA - power of attorney - as I could not keep up with things) tremendously with insurance, short-term and long-term disability and my pay for the extent of my absence. Jason’s also assisted by supplementing my short-term disability with funds from the Jason’s Deli Family Fund to help with my lost wages. This is a voluntary program employees can participate in where they donate money into a fund every check so that other employees, like me, have access to that money when we need it. A brilliant idea that I was so blessed to have access to, once approved.
As of today, it appears the bone marrow transplant was a success. My body has transitioned over to my donor’s DNA and blood type, and the side effects are decreasing slowly but surely. With the continued support of my family, friends, and my work friends and family, I know there won’t be an issue. I am currently cancer free, and never would have been able to say that without the support of all those people. I was and am truly amazed every day at the love, support, generosity, encouragement, faith, selflessness and sincere concern from all of my family, friends and co-workers. It makes me feel so loved, which plays a huge role in my recovery.
I know I will never be able to thank everyone who helped me through this, not that saying “thank you” would be enough. All I can do is focus on the future and continue this fight with my head held high. I’ve learned a lot so far on this journey and am sure to keep learning every day. The best part is, I have those days now.