Cancer Survivor Gets Lift from Caring Co-Workers

Article excerpt

LESLIE CASTALDO wakes up every morning grateful for a new day, grateful for somewhere to go and especially grateful for the people there waiting for her.

She does not always wake up feeling good. Leslie, 34, of Brentwood, learned in January that she had breast cancer. She had surgery and now she is undergoing treatment.

"Some days," she said, "I feel like hell." Leslie knows all about hell. At 23, she had Hodgkin's disease. Her treatment then included a bone marrow transplant, chemotherapy and radi ation. She said it took about four years for her to recover physically and emotionally. Her mom got breast cancer when Leslie was 9. Her aunt died of Hodgkin's disease at the age of 23. And Leslie's sister was diagnosed with breast cancer four years ago. "After going through it with my sister, I was `cancered out,' " Leslie said. "We have a terrible history of cancer in my family, but I have always buried my fear of it." Now, of course, she thinks about it every day. Still, five days a week, Leslie gets up, gets dressed and goes to work at Intrav Inc., an international upscale travel company based in Clayton. She joined the company two years ago as a travel director, leading trips to Egypt and Israel and Australia and other exciting places. Until January, that is. Cancer surgery and cancer treatments take a tremendous toll on the body and the mind, and now Leslie can't do her usual job. "I have no savings. I have no job. I have nothing," Leslie said. "Or so I thought at first." Her company offered to put her on disability leave for a while, but Leslie opted to work, because "I had to do something normal during chemotherapy." Early on, she met with her boss and with the human resources director. At the meeting, Leslie wondered aloud whether she should try to find a job somewhere else. "They said they wouldn't allow it, that they would take care of me," Leslie said. Since then, she has moved around in different departments, doing a variety of jobs. Leslie came to Intrav while at a crossroads in her life. She has a master's degree in social work from St. Louis University and has worked as a program director at the American Cancer Society in Atlanta and as a medical social worker at Missouri Baptist Hospital and Barnes-Jewish Hospital, "trying to save the world from cancer. …