Teacher seeks treatment for blood cell disease

On Friday, Christine Baker said farewell to her Carson Middle School students. Today, she and husband Tom drive to the Bay area so she can undergo a bone marrow transplant.

The Carson City special-education teacher shows no fear of what is ahead. She talks about the disease candidly.

She has myleodysplastic syndrome, which is a result of the chemotherapy used to fight the multiple myeloma she was diagnosed with 6-1/2 years ago, just as she was coming to work at the middle school.

"I was lucky with the cancer," she said. "We caught it very early."

Both diseases affected Baker's immune system, reducing her blood platelet count from the normal 150,000 to 400,000 platelets to about 12,000.

"I don't make platelets that mature," she said. "I have some in my body, but not a lot. It affects your immunity, your blood clotting. When I hit something hard, I get a bruise. If I should get in an accident, I could easily bleed to death."

To fix it, Baker is heading to Stanford University Medical Center where doctors will kill off the rest of her bone marrow with chemotherapy and transplant new cells from her brother, Fresno resident Bill Simonson.

Baker, who turned 58 on Jan. 12, said she has three brothers and a sister, but only the youngest brother was a match.

"All of them were typed," she said. "They say only one sibling in four is a match. I was lucky enough to have four siblings. It was lucky Mom and Dad had him."

Work on her cure begins on Tuesday.

"It's scary," she said. "It's very scary, but everything is going to go well. When we've been down there a couple of times, they give you the horror story of what will happen and what can happen. But we take it one day at a time."

While Baker has undergone cancer treatment before, it was never as invasive as the process she is facing.

"The treatment for the multiple myeloma took some chemotherapy but I never got sick, never lost my hair," she said. "I've been very fortunate that until last summer, I haven't been sick. Every now and then, I would take a day off to get a blood transfusion."

Husband Tom Baker, who is driving Christine to the Bay area for her treatments, said he believes his wife has a good chance at winning against the disease.

"It was good they were able to catch cancer extremely early," he said. "Nationally, the statistics are a survival rate of 40 percent. But a lot of people who get into this thing are a lot further along. She is in good spirits and has a great attitude so she is going to make it."

Tom served as former Sen. Richard Bryan's rural representative. He is now working for the U.S. Forest Service as rural counties liaison capital coordinator.

Christine Baker will be undergoing both inpatient and outpatient treatment for 100 days.

Tom said he is thankful for all the support the couple has received during her illness.

"There is such a great network of support in the community and our family has also been very supportive," he said. "I can't say enough about Carson-Tahoe Hospital and St. Teresa's has been great." He will be visiting Christine on weekends and returning to Nevada to work.

The couple will have lived in Northern Nevada for 25 years in August.


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