As Oakley resident Megan Pato exits her teen years and looks forward to a career in real estate and living on her own, she’s leaving leukemia in the rear-view mirror and looking toward a full life ahead of her.
“I want to be successful, and I’m driven and nothing will hold me back,” said Pato, who turns 20 this month. “I know that if I put my mind to it, I’ll succeed.”
Pato’s future wasn’t always this certain. Nearly two years ago, during a family vacation in Disneyland, Pato realized that something was very wrong.
“I was at Disney, 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, a blood disease that is the most common type of cancer in children. Even though she was 18 years old and technically an adult, Pato’s case was referred to Steven Bergstrom, MD, a specialist in pediatric hematology and oncology at Kaiser Permanente’s Oakland Medical Center.
Pato’s treatment for acute lymphoblastic leukemia involved a number of intravenous chemotherapy drugs, lumbar punctures and oral chemotherapy. In thousands of cases nationally, the protocol has proven extremely effective.
“More than 90 percent of these kids will be disease free for the rest of their lives,” Bergstrom said. “That’s double the success rate for treating Megan’s type of leukemia 60 years ago.”
When Pato was diagnosed, 80 percent of her bone marrow was cancerous. She endured hospitalizations, blood transfusions, weight loss, vomiting, severe allergic reactions to medications and inability to walk.
Pato and her family credit her care team with getting her through treatment, both physically and emotionally.
“My nurses and doctors know more about me than lots of people,” Pato said. “Even if I have a problem at 3 a.m., the doctors would answer the phone and talk to me until I fell asleep. I know they would never lie to me when they tell me I’m going to be okay.”
Pato’s support network extends far beyond the walls of the Oakland Medical Center.
Her mother, Paulette, and father, Michael, attend every treatment with her. Pato also credits her older sister Ashley and Ashley’s boyfriend, Chris, her own boyfriend Wyatt, countless family and friends who make up #TeamMegan and her Chihuahua, Bear, for standing by her every single day.
The future is bright for Pato. She loves food, the San Francisco Giants, going for walks with her mom and hanging out with friends. She plans to take her real-estate license exam in the coming months, and for her 20th birthday, she’s going to Disneyland.
“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.”
This story appeared in The Press (Brentwood, Discovery Bay, Oakley and Antioch) on October 13, 2016