Fighting childhood cancer in Northern California
Even if you’re leading a healthy lifestyle, you or a loved one could be among the more than 1 in 3 people in the United States diagnosed with cancer in their lifetimes. It’s encouraging to know that Kaiser Permanente specialty care is helping our members with cancer get back to pursuing their dreams.
At 19 years old, member Megan Pato is a great example. Having been in cancer treatment for almost 2 and a half years, Pato is ready to get back to all that she loves — walking with her mom and dog, cheering on the Giants, and working toward becoming a real estate agent.
“I’m driven and nothing will hold me back,” says Pato, of Oakley, California. “I know that if I put my mind to it, I’ll succeed.”
But her future wasn’t always this certain.
A unexpectedly bumpy ride
Nearly two years ago, Pato was on a family vacation when she realized that something was very wrong with her health.
“I was in Disneyland, and I was falling asleep on the rides,” said Pato, whose symptoms included extreme fatigue and chronic fever.
A bone marrow test confirmed that she had acute lymphoblastic leukemia, the most common type of blood cancer in children. Fortunately, her physicians were able to work together, and Pato was connected with an experienced cancer specialist and care team.
The benefit of experience
When Pato was diagnosed, 80% of her bone marrow was cancerous. Although she was 18 years old — technically an adult — her case was referred to Steven Bergstrom, MD, a specialist in pediatric hematology and oncology at Kaiser Permanente’s Oakland Medical Center. From his long practice, Dr. Bergstrom knew the most effective form of treatment for a member Pato’s age.
“Clinical trials have shown that young adults do much better on the children’s treatment protocol than on the adult protocol for this type of leukemia,” Dr. Bergstrom explained.
Leading advances in childhood cancer care
Kaiser Permanente’s Northern California Region has three centers for treating childhood cancers — located in Oakland, Roseville, and Santa Clara — which offer cutting-edge treatments and highly integrated care teams. At Kaiser Permanente, 3 out of 4 children with cancer are enrolled in clinical trials, national studies that provide innovative care and help to keep improving the treatment options for all children with cancer.
Pato’s grueling treatment included intensive intravenous chemotherapy, continuing with lumbar punctures and daily oral chemotherapy, for a total of about 2 and a half years. In thousands of cases nationally, this plan has proven extremely effective.
“More than 90% of these kids will be disease free for the rest of their lives,” says Dr. Bergstrom. That’s double the success rate seen from treating Megan’s type of leukemia 60 years ago.
More than medical support
Megan had to overcome hospitalizations and severe discomfort, as well as the inability to walk at times. She and her family credit her Kaiser Permanente care team — primary oncologist Lisa Goodman, MD, Dr. Bergstrom, case manager Laura Chapman, RN, and the specially trained pediatric oncology nurses, medical assistants, and social workers — with getting her through treatment, both physically and emotionally.
She’s also grateful to her extensive support network, including her parents, older sister, boyfriend, countless family and friends, and her Chihuahua, Bear, for being #TeamMegan and “standing by me every single day.”
A bright future
Pato plans to take her real-estate license exam soon. And for her 20th birthday in October, she went back to Disneyland, staying wide awake on the rides this time.
“It’s more like a mental attitude, and how you handle it,” she said. “I told myself, you’ve got to live like every day is my last day. I told myself to live happy now.”
Learn more about leukemia resources in your area
Have a story about your cancer care at Kaiser Permanente? We’d love to hear it. Please send us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.