Fight Against Leukemia Is Personal for Siteman Nurse

John DiPersio 2
John DiPersio, MD, PhD

Doug Frassato
Doug Frassato

Susie Frassato
Susie Frassato

Aug. 15, 2011 – Susie Frassato is accustomed to helping patients who are battling cancer. The Siteman Cancer Center nurse coordinator has nearly 20 years of clinical experience – many of those years in the Division of Oncology at Washington University School of Medicine and on Barnes-Jewish Hospital’s bone marrow transplant unit. But when her 19-year-old son, Doug, was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia in 1999, the fight was personal.

“It was like a rug being pulled out from under us,” Frassato says. “I was devastated, but Doug said, ‘I will do whatever it takes to beat this.’ Our family pulled together, and we all worked to get whatever needed to be done … done. I asked for prayers from everyone I knew and trusted that this would take care of things.”

After two and a half years of chemotherapy and one month in remission, Doug was given the unfortunate news that the leukemia was back. He was referred to John DiPersio, MD, PhD, Siteman deputy director and chief of the Division of Oncology, for a bone marrow transplant. “Doug knew right away that Dr. DiPersio was the one he wanted to take care of him,” Frassato says. “My son has a lot of respect and admiration for Dr. DiPersio – and I believe this is a mutual respect.”

“Doug was the kind of patient you dream of caring for – motivated, physically fit, bright and with a zest for life that would almost assure him of kicking his leukemia,” DiPersio says. “He wasted no time after the transplant getting his life on track – like nothing ever happened. It was such an honor and pleasure to care for Doug, and, because Susie was a bone marrow transplant nurse, he felt like one of the family.”

While Doug was in treatment, Frassato got involved with the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society’s Light the Night event. In addition to a 1-mile evening walk illuminated by balloons to honor and celebrate the lives of people touched by leukemia, lymphoma and myeloma cancers, the event includes music, entertainment and refreshments.

Funds raised support the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society’s mission to cure leukemia, lymphoma and myeloma and improve the quality of life of patients and their families. Through the 2010 Light the Night event, the Gateway Chapter of the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society invested $19.1 million in research in Missouri and Illinois to find a cure for blood cancers.

Also in 2010, the Gateway Chapter contributed $135,000 in financial aid to patients; provided co-pay assistance of $973,000; served more than 5,000 patients with financial support, education and support groups; and provided school curriculum/orientation for children transitioning back to the classroom in 535 schools.

This year’s event will be held Sept. 23. Frassato, who raised money and participated in the walk for a number of years, says it’s a worthy way of raising funds and bringing awareness to the many individuals fighting for their lives.

“It’s a way of giving back to others in need,” she says. “It is breathtaking to see the balloons all lit up in the night and then to see the luminaries at the end of the walk representing the memories of loved ones and honoring the loved ones who are, by the grace of God, still with us.”

One of those loved ones is Frassato’s son Doug. Today, Frassato says, Doug is working as the general manager of the Old Spaghetti Factory in Nashville, Tenn. “He is a living miracle,” she says. “He is living a normal life – and loving life.”

The Siteman Cancer Center is sponsoring a Light the Night team. For more information, click here or contact Denise Bizenberger at 314-454-5059 or dxb3041@bjc.org.