Donna Catamero climbs for a cause

Nurse Donna Catamero treats multiple myeloma patients. Photo provided by Donna Catamero.

Donna Catamero faces many challenges as a nurse. She specializes in treating patients with multiple myeloma, a type of bone marrow cancer that’s currently incurable. When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, she worked on the frontlines in New York City.

More than a year later, vaccines have been widely distributed, and hospitals in New York City aren’t overloaded. Last summer, Catamero started working on multiple myeloma again.

This month, she’ll be climbing to heights of up to 4,000 feet on the peninsula of Alaska to raise awareness and fundraise for multiple myeloma.

A Rhode Island native, Donna Catamero lives in Jersey City and works as a nurse at New York City’s Mount Sinai Hospital.

“Honestly, nursing was not even on my list of things I would even consider,” she said before the hike.

Catamero wasn’t going to be a nurse until she took a job in clinical research. Photo provided by Donna Catamero.

She attended college in Boston unsure of what she wanted to do. She studied neurosciences and graduated with a science degree. But she still wasn’t sure what to do afterward. The only job she could get was in clinical research, so she took it, learning what nurses actually do.

“In high school, my image of a nurse was emptying bedpans, and it just was not appealing to me,” she said. “Then with this job, I had the opportunity to work alongside nurses and myeloma patients, and I was like ‘You know what, I really love this field, and I want to do more.’”

Catamero went back to school to get her nursing degree, moved to Jersey City in 2002, and has worked in New York City since then. She got her nurse practitioner’s degree in 2010.

As a nurse dealing with an incurable disease, Catamero faces emotional burnout. “It is very stressful when you’re caring for someone’s life,” she said.

When COVID hit in 2020, she worked for three months in infectious diseases.

“It was very hard during the first month of the pandemic,” she said. “I’m going in, running around the unit, and I’m seeing patients my age, in their 40s and younger, which really was shocking to me.”

She remembered being on the subway heading to work, never catching a break.

“I’m used to death because I’m in oncology, but I wasn’t used to that type of death, where someone young and healthy can be fine one minute, and then the next minute, your life is taken away from you just like that.”

Catamero was deployed to the frontlines at the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic. Photo provided by Donna Catamero.

Catamero currently oversees other nurses in the research nurses program, where she’s in charge of opening clinical trials that expand to underserved populations.

Catamero’s hike is part of Moving Mountains for Multiple Myeloma, created by the Multiple Myeloma Research Foundation and CURE Media Group. Myeloma patients, caretakers, doctors, and nurses climb mountains to raise research funds and awareness.

With the program, she’s been to Machu Picchu in Peru, where she hiked with a team up the Inca Trail at 10,000 feet. “It was very difficult,” she said. “You know that expression ‘to walk a mile in their shoes’? It really puts things into perspective when you’re struggling like that. This is what this must feel like for my patients.”

The hike inspires her to do better.

The trip to Alaska was originally going to be last year, but it got postponed twice because of COVID; first to this June, and then again to August.

Catamero has hiked up Machu Picchu, and she’ll trek to Alaska this month. Photo provided by Donna Catamero.

In Alaska, they’ll hike about eight to ten miles a day. To prepare, Catamero practiced in New Hampshire and in the New York/New Jersey area.

“You really do get close to your patients; they really rely on you,” she said. “Seeing them getting into a remission is a big win for me. Back when I started, overall survival was three years. Now the treatments we’re giving patients, they’re going into remissions, and they’re staying for long periods of time. So that in itself is very rewarding for me.”

She hopes to see a cure for myeloma in her lifetime. “Because this has really become a life passion of mine.”

The hike takes place from August 16 to 21.

For updates on this and other stories, check www.hudsonreporter.com and follow us on Twitter @hudson_reporter. Mark Koosau can be reached at mkoosau@hudsonreporter.com or his Twitter @snivyTsutarja.