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Fighting Childhood Cancer with #TeamMegan

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Now almost 20, Megan Pato was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia when she was 18 years old.

As Megan Pato exits her teen years and looks forward to a career in real estate, she’ll be leaving leukemia in the rear-view mirrorPictured above, Pato poses with Steven Bergstrom, MD, a member of her Kaiser Permanente care team.

When she’s 25 years old, Megan Pato imagines she’ll be a real estate agent, making good money, and living in her own place.

“I want to be successful and I’m driven and nothing will hold me back,” said Pato, of Oakley, Calif., who turns 20 in October. “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 with her health.

“I was in 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.

Leukemia Diagnosis and Treatment

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.

“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.

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, three-quarters of children with cancer are enrolled in clinical trials, national studies that facilitate the continuous improvement of treatment protocols for all children with cancer.

Pato’s treatment for acute lymphoblastic leukemia involved a number of intensive chemotherapy drugs administered intravenously weekly over a nine-month period. Then it was reduced to intravenous treatments once a month, lumbar punctures every three months, and daily oral chemotherapy, for a total of about two and a half years.

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,” Dr. Bergstrom said. That’s double the success rate for treating Megan’s type of leukemia 60 years ago.

Treating Childhood Cancers

When Pato was diagnosed, 80 percent of her bone marrow was cancerous. During the initial period of chemotherapy, she endured hospitalizations, blood transfusions, weight loss, vomiting, severe allergic reactions to medications, and the inability to walk.

Pato 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.

“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.”

#TeamMegan

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 older sister Ashley and boyfriend Chris; her boyfriend Wyatt; and countless family and friends who make up #TeamMegan, as well as her Chihuahua, Bear, with “standing by me 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.”