Published on February 23, 2022

Cancer Care in Alpena Helps Sault Ste. Marie Woman Stay Positive and Focused

Photo of Katelyn Porcaro and her family standing out front of her home in Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan on a snowy day.

Katelyn Porcaro, left, pictured with her family at their home in Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan. Katelyn, an active mom of three, recently completed cancer treatment at MyMichigan Medical Center Alpena.

Katelyn Porcaro, 33, is a working mom of three. With kids in sports and a husband studying for his engineering degree at Lake Superior State University, she has a lot going on. She began having occasional headaches and some neck tension she believed was her body’s reaction to life’s stressors and treated them with over-the-counter medications and regular chiropractic visits. But at the end of a workday about one year ago, she had a grand mal seizure at the office that left her unconscious and changed her life forever.

A CT scan in the local emergency room showed a mass in the left frontal lobe of her brain. Unclear if it was the result of a stroke or a tumor, she was referred to Neurosurgeon Wajd Nizar Al-Holou, M.D., at Michigan Medicine in Ann Arbor. Dr. Al-Holou determined that it was in fact a tumor and told her that he would perform surgery to remove it.

“There was such a flood of intense emotions that day,” said Porcaro. “I felt like I was in a snow globe. Would I make it through surgery? Would they get it all? I was worried about how I would meet the needs of my kids and help my husband. I was a healthy person before this, so processing the reality of it was challenging. But there was no time to waste, so you just move forward.”

Porcaro’s case required an awake craniotomy. When a tumor is in the area of the brain where seizures occur, it is near parts that control vision, movement and speech. When the patient is awake, questions can be asked to ensure the surgery is not encroaching on those areas. “To say it was surreal would be an understatement,” said Porcaro. “There were lots of people in the room guiding me, though, and my husband was there.”

Ten days post-surgery Porcaro received the news from Dr. Al-Holou that the tumor was grade three, malignant astrocytoma. All but two percent of it was successfully removed, but chemotherapy was prescribed and radiation recommended. She did some research, outreach and decided upon MyMichigan Medical Center Alpena for her follow-up treatment. “The moment I spoke to staff at the Cancer Center in Alpena it just clicked. It felt right. I knew there were options closer to home, but it had to be Alpena.”

Radiation Oncologist Mario Lacerna, M.D., met with Porcaro and husband Tyler to formulate a plan. She would complete six weeks of radiation and chemo, traveling from her home in Sault Ste. Marie to the Cancer Center and back daily. “Dr. Lacerna did a great job explaining everything to us and asked me if I was sure I wanted to do all the traveling back and forth,” said Porcaro. “I told him absolutely. I felt like the people in Alpena knew me from day one, and I wanted to work with them.”

In early September, Porcaro completed radiation and her first round of chemo. “I’m not going to tell you it was easy,” she said. “But nothing in life is.” She will continue receiving chemo for one year, with five days on and 25 off. Treatment was temporary halted as she contracted COVID-19 but is back on track. “I am so happy to have been vaccinated to keep from getting sicker,” she said.

Through it all, Porcaro chooses to be positive. She claims she is much more aware of others’ feelings and compassionate about any challenges they might be facing. She makes efforts to return the kindness she has received from her health care team, fellow patients and friends. She would love to get back to work as a loan officer but vows to do so with her health and wellness more of a priority. She is also doing her best to stay focused on the day at hand.

“I have met amazing people on my journey so far,” share Porcaro. “The whole staff in Alpena knows me by name and never lets me feel like an inconvenience. They have huge hearts and have become my second family. I would recommend cancer care in Alpena to anyone needing it – without hesitation. None of us go through this battle alone.”

Those who would like to learn more about the comprehensive cancer care at MyMichigan Health may visit www.mymichigan.org/cancer.