John Bennett, MD, CDPHP® president and CEO, and Victoria Baecker, CDPHP community relations and corporate events manager, recently visited with Kacey Sisco, the 2016 honoree for Albany Medical Center’s Dancing in the Woods event, to hear more about her story and experience with the hospital’s Melodies Center for Childhood Cancer and Blood Disorders. CDPHP has been a longtime supporter of Albany Med and Dancing in the Woods, proceeds from which benefit the Melodies Center. Here is Victoria’s takeaway from that meeting.
I remember the summer before my senior year of high school like it was yesterday. It was a time spent with friends and thinking about the future, with college tours just around the corner. I remember homecoming week, feeling like the queen of the school, and of course, senior prom. One thing that definitely wasn’t on my mind was a pending cancer diagnosis. That is exactly what happened to Kacey.
When I met Kacey, she had one of the biggest smiles I had ever seen. Her hair was short and thin and it reminded me of my daughter’s when she was a baby. She walked with a walker, but said it was a huge improvement, as she had been in a wheelchair until fairly recently.
She told me how she spent countless days with friends by the water in Lake George last summer – swimming, running, hiking, and just being a kid. But as the summer days grew shorter, so did her energy levels, and she began to have difficulty breathing. She noticed bruising on her legs and an inability to stay up late playing on Facebook and texting.
With the encouragement of her friends, the teen overcame her fear of needles and went to the doctor. Within 48 hours, she was diagnosed with leukemia – acute lymphoblastic leukemia to be exact.
Kacey said with a smile, “It’s all kind of a blur after that.”
Her grandfather, Bob, who has been Kacey’s caregiver since she was a baby, helped fill in the gaps of what the next several weeks and months looked like.
He shared with us the time that Kacey fainted in his arms while walking into the hospital, how her hemoglobin levels dipped as low as 3.2 when they should be somewhere around 12, when she was on a ventilator for 11 days and her family didn’t know which way was up.
He spoke about when she started losing her hair. “My long, beautiful, brown hair. I loved my long hair. I miss it,” Kacey chimed in.
Despite those troubling times, both Bob and Kacey considered the employees at Albany Med family. They truly appreciated the staff members’ smiles and strength, and the sleepless nights when med students would hang out in Kacey’s room, coloring, chatting about the latest celebrity gossip, and just being present. There were many at the hospital who touched them deeply, like the doctor who dressed up as Superman to distract Kacey during a spinal tap, or the nurse who sat beside her for hours upon hours when her family couldn’t be there.
Our visit with Kacey and her grandfather was very emotional. Listening to her talk made me reflect on my life as a teen and now as a mother. I remember when the biggest thing in my life was the homecoming dance, something that Kacey almost missed. It made me appreciate those moments even more.
As we chatted, Kacey reminded us that she is currently in remission and only taking oral medicine, in addition to a “quick drop” of medicine in her port once a month. She is thrilled to be on a maintenance program that entails medicine that doesn’t make her as sick as the powerful chemo.
Hers is a tale of hope, love, trust, and faith – one that I was ever so grateful to hear and share. And while Kacey is considered a success story, there are still so many people who don’t have a happy ending. Support for AMC’s Melodies Center is critical for funding research and treatment to help young people like Kacey with their battle against these horrible diseases.