Little Everett Andrew Pisano arrived early, his birth induced at 34 weeks as part of a plan to return his mother to good physical health.
But his parents, Tara and Christopher Pisano of Shavertown, say the baby is improving their emotional health as well.
“Definitely busier, happier,” Tara said, reflecting on how life has changed since Everett Andrew was born. “He definitely cheers me up. He keeps my mind off what’s coming.”
Tara’s coming ordeal is a round of chemotherapy to combat her recently diagnosed acute myeloid leukemia, which is a blood cancer.
After that, the young mother will receive a stem-cell transplant from her sister, Deanna Hustey, to be followed by more chemotherapy.
There’s a lot of encouraging news in this story, including the fact that Hustey, 26, is “a 100 percent match” for her sister, who just turned 28, and that Dr. David Claxton, a hematologist/oncologist at Hershey Medical Center, has predicted a 90 percent chance Tara will be alive five years from now.
But Tara, already a cancer survivor, had hoped her first bout with the disease would be her last.
“I had a hard time getting my head to a good place this time,” said Tara, who was treated in 2011 for Ewing’s Sarcoma, which usually affects bones but was found in her kidney. “I thought I’d had my share of trouble for a while.”
“I’m torn between never wanting (the new treatments) to start, and wanting to get them over with so I can get back to enjoying my life,” she said.
For Tara, a 2007 graduate of King’s College and 2012 MBA graduate of Misericordia University, her enjoyable life has included working as a senior accountant for Luzerne Intermediate Unit 18, cooking and taking walks with her husband of six years, Christopher, whom she met when they were both students at Bishop Hoban High School in Wilkes-Barre.
“Actually, we met before that, when we were babies, but we didn’t know it,” Tara said with a gentle laugh. “His cousin’s grandmother and my grandmother were best friends, so we ended up at the same birthday party. His mother was showing me baby pictures and there we were, sitting in two high chairs at a McDonald’s. I told her, ‘That (other) baby is me.’”
Tara and Christopher got married in September 2007 and hoped to start a family, but the Ewing’s Sarcoma, discovered early in 2011, interfered.
After surgery to remove her kidney and months of chemotherapy for the sarcoma, a disease which usually affects adolescents, she hoped she was in remission for good.
She wanted to start a family, but doctors told her it might be impossible for her to get pregnant, at least for a while, because her body might not “bounce back.” So she and Christopher were surprised, and pleased, when they learned Everett was on the way.
The pregnancy seemed to be progressing well until the 20th week, when Tara began to feel anemic.
“I knew what anemia felt like,” she said, “because I’d had it before, during chemotherapy.”
During a checkup with Kingston oncologist Dr. David Greenwald, she said she thought she might have an iron deficiency. That turned out not to be the case. It wasn’t a deficiency of folate or vitamin B12, either.
“When they did the bone marrow biopsy, I was thinking nothing bad would come back from it,” she said. “I thought I’d done my time.”
But the biopsy did indicate myelodysplastic syndrome, which is characterized by an overabundance of immature white blood cells, also known as blasts, in a person’s bone marrow. The condition soon progressed to acute myeloid leukemia.
In her case, Tara said, the leukemia is therapy-induced, which means she has it because of the chemotherapy drugs she took for the Ewing’s sarcoma.
“They give you these huge packets for each chemotherapy drug you get, and each one has pages and pages of side effects,” she said. One of those side effects was a 1 percent chance of getting this kind of cancer.
Tara was upset. She was angry. She cried.
Then she became determined to fight.
“I always visualize how I’ll feel when I get my life put back to normal,” she said.
During these few weeks of recovery from childbirth, before the treatments start, Christopher and Tara are enjoying the normalcy of everyday child care. “We’re obsessed,” Tara said. “We both want to change the diapers.”
She also expects to enjoy serving as her sister’s matron of honor when Deanna Hustey gets married at the end of this month.
The sisters grew up in South Wilkes-Barre, forging a close bond as they played with Barbies, rode bicycles together, and even filmed home movies with their dolls as the stars.
“I always told her what they would say,” Tara said with a big-sister smile. “I was the boss.”
In a telephone interview, Hustey said she is happy to be able to donate stem cells, a process she described as no more taxing than donating blood, but something she hopes will give her sister many healthy years to watch Everett grow up.
“When I first saw him,” she said of her nephew, “I felt this incredible love. It was just overwhelming.”
The baby’s parents feel that way, even more so, and call Everett “a miracle” because, if Tara hadn’t been pregnant and feeling weak, they believe the second cancer might have progressed further before it was discovered.
It’s hard not to worry. “I don’t think I spend five minutes without thinking about it,” Tara said.
But she’s optimistic about the coming stem-cell transplant. “Then I have to wait for (my sister’s) DNA to take over and start producing red blood cells and platelets.”
During and after the transplant, Tara expects to be hospitalized several times, including a period when she’ll have to spend a month in Hershey.
“I’ve learned that all you can do is just be there for a person,” Christopher said.
The couple will lease a short-term apartment, which is one of many expenses not covered by insurance.
“You pay a few hundred just to see a doctor,” Tara said. “And I have lots of doctors.”
Christopher will be taking time off from his job as a foreman at Wilkes-Barre Clay Products, which takes another bite from the family’s income.
Eager to help financially, friends and relatives have planned a “Rally at the River Grille” fund-raiser for Thursday at the River Grille restaurant in Plains Township.
“These next couple months are going to be very difficult for Tara and her family,” long-time friend Alison Taroli Gelsleichter said. “We are hoping to make it just a little bit easier.”