Washington State Trooper Renee Padgett of Renton is headed back to work, her cancer in remission and her strength returning.
She returned to work part-time this week and could resume work full-time in March, depending on how well her immune system rebuilds from a stem-cell transplant.
Initially, she’ll do office work for her division but her goal is to get back on the road.
“I love my job,” she said.
For 15 years Padgett has worked closely with local agencies in her role as the state patrol’s wrecking-yard inspector in King County. She’s part of the patrol’s Commercial Vehicle Division.
Through her efforts, an innovative new program called Homeward Bound was started, designed to help locate and bring home some of the approximately 23,000 children who are reported missing in the state each year.
The program is a partnership with Gordon Trucking of Pacific, which puts the posters of the missing children on the sides its trailers that go throughout the state and nation.
Thursday, she and Sgt. Joe Bussman with the Commercial Vehicle Division attended Gordon Trucking’s drive-appreciation event in Pacific.
In May 2012 Padgett, 45, was diagnosed with a rare form of cancer called multiple myeloma, which is a cancer of plasma cells, a type of white-blood cell in bone marrow.
For her two children, Gedeon, 11, and Olivia, 7, the seriousness of Padgett’s illness hit home when she lost all her hair right before the stem-cell transplant at Seattle Cancer Care Alliance.
“I think it was a shock,” she said, when they realized she was sick.
Now, her kids like the fact her hair is growing back.
Padgett’s days have been filled with trips to the doctor and hospitals. This summer, with the help of some charitable organizations, Padgett’s children attended camps offered by the City of Renton while she underwent treatment and followup care.
The good news came in March that she was cancer-free, following the stem-cell transplant, something neither she nor her doctors were expecting.
“I am in remission,” she said, but there is no cure for her cancer.
She was started on maintenance chemotherapy, which she couldn’t tolerate and has started other treatment, she said. A cough has lasted for about four months.
Doctors will continue to monitor her condition closely, but Padgett knows patients will relapse, usually within 24 to 36 months. Her goal is years.
She could undergo a second stem-cell treatment and doctors could consider more maintenance chemotherapy again as a preventive measure.
“I worked really hard,” Padgett said. “I want to stick around.”
She has started physical therapy and occupational therapy to help regain her strength to return to work part-time. Rebuilding her immune system will take time, which is why she must wait to work full-time.
The chemotherapy drug Melphalan given before a stem-cell transplant “kills your entire system down to nothing.” After she’s given back her stem cells, the immune system must rebuild from scratch.
She likens her immune system to that of a newborn baby.
“All my immunizations have been washed away and I must start from the beginning,” she said.
Padgett has also lost about three inches in height.
In intense pain on May 17, 2012, she went to the emergency room, where doctors discovered a tumor on her spine that had caused four discs to collapse on top of each other. Such bone compression is one of the symptoms of the cancer.
The surgery went well and the pain is gone. She went from 5-foot-8 to 5-foot-4 1/2. Her upper body “got squashed,” she said, but her pants still fit.
Padgett met recently with others involved with Homeward Bound, including Gordon Trucking. More posters of missing chilren are on order to place on Gordon trailers.
Through her months of treatment she’s stayed positive and has had the support of friends, family, wrecking yards and police and fire departments – and the state patrol.
“I am very thankful the department has bent over backward to help me,” she said.
The State Patrol Chief John Batiste was at her side when she finished the More Birthdays For Renee 5K fundraiser on April 21. It was sponsored by Cops with Cancer, along with Lakewood Officers’ Charity, WSP Troopers Association, FOP Lodge 27 Green River Valley, Gordon Trucking Inc., Quality Towing, Budget Auto and Truck Wrecking and Washington’s Most Wanted.
Padgett’s race is still not over.
“My mind is ready to go, but my body isn’t yet ready,” she said.