Now that Karen Scialabba has successfully battled a rare form of lymphoma, her life has taken several different turns all for the better.
The 52-year-old Merced woman has started violin lessons and joined a cancer support group at Mercy Medical Center. She finally met her 7-month-old granddaughter, who is the youngest of nine grandchildren.
And, she said, she is feeling good again.
These are welcome changes from her second bout with lymphoma that began a year ago in March. Scialabba said she started getting aches in her side that felt like cramps. It took months for the non-Hodgkin T-cell lymphoma to be diagnosed in her intestines.
Treatment involved a bone marrow transplant in December with her sister and a protracted treatment program at Stanford University.
"I'm like a newborn," Scialabba said. "I have a new immune system. I will go back to my primary care physician to get immunization for childhood diseases. I have to be careful, and I haven't been able to eat restaurant food."
Scialabba wore a painter's mask when she ventured outside and has tried to avoid hugging and kissing.
After the bone marrow transplant she spent 100 days either at Stanford or at a house within an hour's drive of the hospital. There were very few side effects from the transplant and no hair loss or nausea this time.
"I am doing really well. My blood work was great," Scialabba said. "I come back in mid-June for another scan."
Scialabba's 53-year-old sister, Susan Stravitz of Lexington, Ky., was a perfect match for the transplant. She came to Stanford, and they were placed in a private room where the hours of infusing new stem cells took place.
Medical personnel monitored her blood in the Infusion Treatment Area pods, at first daily, then every other day and then once a week. She couldn't drive and had to have her husband or father with her 24 hours a day.
Stravitz said she welcomed the procedure, which took three weeks.
"I am feeling so thankful. It was the honor of a lifetime to do that for her," Stravitz said. "It was one of the most beautiful, loving things I have ever experienced. I thank God."
Stravitz said she and her sister weren't close as children but started getting closer in their 20s. Now, she said, they are as close as two people could be, talking about twice a week.
Scialabba's mother, Sylvia Hardy of Merced, said her daughter has gone through so much in the past few years. Hardy and her husband John moved to Merced from New York to be closer to their daughter.
"She has stayed strong and has been surrounded by great support and people who are praying for her," Hardy said. "I'm so thankful she's doing so well."
Sumana Shashidhar, the clinical trial coordinator at the Stanford Cancer Center, said she became good friends with Scialabba during her treatment at the hospital.
"She has an amazing spirit. It's a very rare patient who gives back as much as she does," Shashidhar said. "She's incredibly brave and had a lot thrown at her. It was inspiring with all she was going through she took the time to comfort those around her. I'm in awe how strong she is; it's not easy."
Scialabba worked for Pacific Gas & Electric Co. for 28 years. She was a principal compliance analyst before she was laid off, which she said was devastating.
Scialabba expects to do special presentations for others with the Mercy cancer support group. She is upbeat about her future.
"I know my body is ready; now to get my head into my new life," Scialabba said. "Unfortunately, I've experienced the reality that relapses happen. But with all the prayers and advice I've received, this time will be different I just know it."
Reporter Doane Yawger can be reached at (209) 385-2407 or email@example.com.