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Defying all odds

Pre-med student and mother of two, diagnosed with rare disease

Published: Monday, June 25, 2012

Updated: Wednesday, July 25, 2012 20:07

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Roger Zhang -- THE BATTALION

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Roger Zhang -- THE BATTALION

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Roger Zhang -- THE BATTALION


“I got stared at everywhere I went, people always did a double take because I had this huge belly,” Castillo said. “I knew I was

being judged.”

But what those people didn’t know was that Castillo was one of the brightest incoming freshmen in the country. She graduated in the top 4 percent of her class and had acceptances to some of the top pre-med programs in the country. She was the first in her family to attend college, and an unplanned pregnancy would hold her back

“I worked hard for so long, I didn’t want to throw it away,” Castillo said.

Her son Sean quickly became her motivation to succeed.

“I knew that not only was I becoming a mother but I was also becoming a role model. I knew that if I quit school I wouldn’t be the best example for him. I wanted to show him that when times get rough, you can persevere,” Castillo said.

Castillo abandoned a full scholarship to Boston University to attend Texas A&M University, in an effort to be closer to family.

Casey Kettlewell, her husband, was already attending Blinn College and they knew it

was important they come together as a family

to overcome the challenges teen

pregnancy brings.

“I’m just so glad that I chose A&M,” Castillo said. “Texas A&M is just so personable and family oriented and warm. You get the best of both worlds — you get a great education and an at-home feeling.”

Castillo is a senior biomedical sciences

 major graduating in December. She will be a part of the two percent of teen moms who earn a college degree, as a mother of two. The Kettlewells recently welcomed a daughter, Charli. Receiving her diploma will symbolize four years of hard work and sacrifices made by the Kettlewells.

“We’ve had to sacrifice a lot. Even though I’m a senior, I just went to Northgate for the first time two weeks ago,” Castillo-Kettlewell said, “I’ve never had a typical college life.”

Being a mom, a wife, and a student means quitting is a tempting option.

“Last week I was surrounded by all my anatomy notes, and my son Sean was using me as a personal jungle gym. I sat up and I just started crying. I wanted to study and I couldn’t,” Castillo said.

It was the desire to end the vicious cycle of low-income living that drove Castillo to continue. She said more important than having a good job and making money is being a good example for her son and not becoming another statistic.

“I knew that not only was I becoming a mother but I was also becoming a role model. I knew that if I quit school I wouldn’t be the best example for him. I wanted to show him that when times get rough, you can persevere,” Castillo said.

Casey Kettlewell, Susan’s husband, also sacrificed for the good of his family. He stopped pursuing higher education to take care of their son and work at a local grocery store. He said he recognized his wife’s potential to do great things, and he wouldn’t do anything to stand in her way.

“We were together for years, and I knew how dedicated and intelligent she was,” Kettlewell said. “To interfere with that would be my fault.”

As one challenge is overcome, another begins. Castillo-Kettlewell is now applying to medical schools to achieve her dream of becoming a doctor who specializes in infectious diseases.

“Significant people in my life are HIV positive. I was just recently diagnosed with Idiopathic Granulomatous Mastisis by our local, and only, infectious disease doctor in town. Knowing that I can help people win the war on their diseases just like the infectious doctors have done in my life and the lives of my loved ones is priceless.” Castillo said.

IGM is a rare disorder that mimics inflammatory breast cancer. It causes tumors, lesions, and abscesses on the breast and disfigures the breast. Castillo was diagnosed on Feb. 8, almost a year to the date she found her first breast tumor.

“I was basically living in the hospital or the operating room when I was diagnosed. I had eight operations and in-office procedures to remove tumors and abscesses from both breasts, but the tumors and lesions just kept coming.”

Her doctor knew the tumors were non-cancerous, yet IGM is so rare he had to get a second opinion to confirm Castillo’s diagnosis.

Given its rarity, there is no set protocol on how to treat IGM. Castillo’s doctor recently found three tumor developments on both breast and her next step will be to go to the world-renowned Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., to see some of the nation’s best breast specialists who can hopefully put Castillo in remission.

“The last and most drastic option would be a double mastectomy, but I refuse to believe that I will have to resort to that option.”

Castillo continues to defy the odds stacked against her. She is proof any stereotype, any statistic, and any hardship can be overcome. It seems that nothing the world throws at her can hold her back.

“I know God put this challenge in my life for a reason. They way I look at it is that I am getting many shadowing hours with all the doctor visits and surgeries I have had. I have the most amazing team of doctors that truly care for my well being…[But] I once had a doctor that bluntly told me that I ‘might just have cancer’ like he was describing the weather outside.  He indirectly gave me a of crash course on how not to treat my patients.  I am more determined to become a doctor now, so I can make a difference in my patients’ lives just like my doctors have made on mine.  

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