Melissa Castro-santos: The Heart of a Survivor
On Wednesday, the community came together in a big way as over 200 people came to the OWL Building in Fishkill to take part in a donor registry, to see if they were a bone marrow match for a local mother of three. All it took was simple swab to the cheek.
Cold Spring resident Melissa Castro-santos, 42, her husband, Darrin, twin 9-yearold sons Darrin Jr. and Daniel, and beautiful 7-year-old daughter Mikayla live on Parrott Street.
Melissa worked as a corrections officer for the past 15 years.
Trying to balance family life and a full-time job can have its challenges, but none like the challenge the Castrosantos family has been facing for the past few months.
Melissa has been diagnosed with Multiple Myeloma (also known as plasma cell myeloma or Kahler’s disease), a cancer of plasma cells in bone marrow. Melissa said that most people don’t find out they have this type of cancer until they are older, when they have a tendency to fall and break a bone.
As it happened, Melissa was at work when she slipped down a few stairs and from the fall, she landed up with a compression fracture in her lower vertebrae.
After she went through a series of tests, it turned out the doctors found she had lesions in her bones. It was at that point she was sent to an oncologist. Upon hearing the devastating news she said, “I was depressed and sad at first, but I’m past that now, because of my faith and my family and my community,” Subsequent chemotherapy treatments have proven unsuccessful and a stem cell transplant failed to stop the disease.
Melissa observed that it was the community that stepped up for her family. “It’s unbelievable,” she said, adding that friends and neighbors and the Pop Warner community made the family meals “every day for months.” They also pitched in and made sure her children never missed any sport practices and play dates, while she was going through chemo after three-month stay in the hospital.
Melissa explained that it was hard to leave the kids at first. “I called them morning noon and night and told them, mommy has to do this because mommy’s sick.” Eventually the children came to understand the situation.
Doctors now want Castrosantos to receive an unrelated donor stem cell transplant, which means a donor outside of her family.
The community came together Wednesday to help in the search for a match by taking part in a donor registry drive. It can take up to 2 months to test the all the donors to see if there is a match.
What would it mean for her to find a match? She teared up and said, “It would mean a lot because my children are still too young, I expect to be here for a long time for them.”
Melissa started working at Downstate Correctional Facility in the men’s reception area in 1994 as a secretary and then studied to be a Corrections Officer a few years later. She said she loved her job, but described it as “stressful at times.” Throughout the whole prognosis of cancer she was worried about her job situation. As of April 30th, she had to retire because of her illnesses and going forward, she does not know what effect the loss of income is going to have on her family. Last Wednesday, she received her final check without much fanfare. She is somewhat troubled by the implications the drastic pay decrease will have: “I love it here my kids grew up here, they love their friends, I can’t think of ever leaving here.” Most people in her situation would be panicked at this stage, however, Melissa’s confidence and faith shines through her hardships.
If you missed the bone marrow drive this time around it is not too late; one can still donate if they go to Bethematch.org for more information, also a member from her parish is also working to do another donor drive locally for the people who couldn’t make it on Wednesday.
Faith plays a big part in seeking solace from a cancer diagnosis: “I always believed in God, I prayed to God, but I was never emotionally attached to Him until now and He knows if I am strong enough to go through this. I am so touched by all the support from my community and coworkers, family and neighbors and from my parish, Our Lady of Loretto. I can’t forget the strength and guidance my Lord gives me every day that I have to live.”