Community joins together to help ailing RAKS manager

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Out of the blue early last December, 32-year-old Amy Baca began to have excruciating back pain.

"It felt like I had bad pinched nerves, and I couldn't move," Baca said.

When the pain didn't let up, Baca went to urgent care and her local doctor.

The doctor prescribed pain medication and scheduled an X-ray on Friday, Dec. 14, but early that morning, Baca woke her husband, Kevin, and told him she needed to go to the emergency room.

"I was literally laying on the floor, rolling around," she said. "It hurt so bad, it felt like a slipped disc or something."

At the Presbyterian ER, medical technicians noticed bruising all over her body.

"They thought maybe I had internal bleeding and ordered a CAT scan," she said. "Within the CAT scan, the radiologist noticed I had two lesions on my spine."

The doctors suspected cancer and ordered a bone marrow biopsy. The prognosis wasn't good. Her platelets were really low. That's what caused the bruising all over her body, she said.

On Dec. 16, the doctors told Baca she had cancer.

"My first thoughts were, 'What am I going to do with work? What am I going to do with the kids?'" she said. "Because it's a long process, what am I supposed to do? I think I went into complete shock because I didn't really cry … Everyone else around me was crying, but I didn't really know what to do or what to say."

She was transferred to UNM-Hospital, where blood transfusions and chemotherapy, including spinal taps, and intravenous chemo were started immediately. Now, she needs a bone marrow transplant.

As soon as possible, she needs to be admitted to the Mayo Clinic in Phoenix, Ariz., for daily stem cell bone marrow transplants, a three-month treatment process to replace bone marrow cells destroyed by the heavy doses of chemotherapy.

"My doctor, Dr. McGuire, said it was going to be a long haul," Baca said.

The young Los Lunas mother was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia, or ALL, which is designated "acute" because it can progress quickly. Just last May, her doctor ordered blood work, and the results came back healthy.

"It's more common in children than adults," she said.

In fact, it's a rare form of leukemia in adults, and the younger you are, the greater your chances of overcoming it, but without treatment, it can be fatal within a few months.

"If she was 50, she wouldn't survive it," her mother, Jeanette Foster, said. "Forty plus, and she wouldn't survive it."

But she's strong, Foster said.

"I've got a lot of family, I've got a lot of friends, so I can do this," said Baca.

The Los Lunas High School graduate has worked at RAKS Building Supplies since she was 16 years old. For the past seven years, she has been the manager of the store.

She was the assistant manager for five years before that, and in a traditionally male field, she has held her own.

"She can out work and out smart any man in the industry," said Steven Otero, a longtime customer and family friend.

She has a magnetic personality that makes you feel like you've known each other for 20 years, Otero said.

The whole county has rallied to help Baca combat the growing medical bills. The Branch Coffee Gang organized a complete fajita dinner fundraiser with a silent auction, and RAKS is selling $1 raffle tickets for a variety of donated goods to be drawn on March 12.

"She didn't realize how much people care for her until she got sick," her mother said.

A Facebook page has been set up, "Prayers for Amy," that posts updates, how to donate and other news.

Donation boxes have been set up at RAKS in Los Lunas, C & J's Restaurant in Los Chavez, at The Branch Gifts & Espresso in Los Lunas and an "Amy Baca Donation Account" has been set up at Wells Fargo Bank.

The fajita dinner will be held at RAKS from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m., Saturday, Feb. 23. Tickets are $10, and Jeanette Foster will be selling them at RAKS from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. every Tuesday and Thursday until Monday, Feb. 18. For information, call Jeanette Foster at 450-5298, or Lisa Ortega 319-3696.


-- Email the author at dfox@news-bulletin.com.