Ghost Stories: Faith, family kept Casey Guerrero fighting

Ghost Stories: Faith, family kept Casey Guerrero fighting
April 11, 2013, 1:15 pm
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Casey Guerrero (right) defeated leukemia in 2010 after a bone-marrow transplant.

Editor's note: This is the second installment of CSNBayArea.com’s Ghost Stories, a series chronicling Gilroy’s Robert “The Ghost” Guerrero and his team heading into their May 4 showdown in Las Vegas with Floyd Mayweather. Read Part 1 here.

The unknown can scare even the bravest of men.

Ask Robert Guerrero, whose ironclad mettle was first revealed at age nine when he jumped on a bull on a dare—and then subsequently confirmed such courage during a boxing career splattered with a few brutal bloodbaths.

And while neither horn nor fist has had even a minuscule effect on his psyche, the genuine possibility of losing his wife Casey to cancer six years ago shook every nerve in the 30-year-old fighter’s being.

“When you hear ‘cancer,’ you just freak out.  We had been together throughout junior high, high school, we got married, [and] had two kids,” said Robert, who still gets goosebumps thinking about his first date with Casey 16 years ago.  “The first thing in my mind was whether or not she was going to die, and not knowing what was going to happen next.  She was so young.”

In 2007, Casey noticed increasing swelling in her body and found herself repeatedly overwhelmed with a feeling of nausea.  The persistent vomiting that followed would eventually compel her to seek medical attention.  Then the anvil dropped.

“Robert rushed me to the emergency room,” she said.  “They did a bunch of tests on me, and they found that it was leukemia.”

Now entrenched in the fight of her life, Casey ingested a cocktail of various medications and stomached session after session of excruciating chemotherapy in order to inch her way to the next round.  As her condition worsened, doctors began to inject the medicine into her brain.  

“Most of the time, I lost a lot of weight,” said Casey, who plummeted from 125 to 98 pounds at one point.  “It’s all different, the types of chemotherapy and treatment they would line up for me.  Sometimes it’s infusions, sometimes it’s shots.  It was pretty rough.”

During this period, Robert found himself in a spiraling freefall.  His status as one of rising young fighters in boxing had suddenly become a footnote to his wife’s deteriorating health, and the man who once felt so in control of his destiny felt powerless to stop it.  Constantly choking back tears at night, he turned to the only place he knew.

“My faith came in huge,” Robert said.  “To have the Lord guide me through everything and keeping me on the right path on what to do was one of the biggest things.  I felt like he gave her the strength to keep fighting, and asked that he would heal Casey and get her back to normal.”

The couple’s belief in God was thoroughly tested as Casey went in and out of remission on two separate occasions only for the cancer to return even stronger each time.  With mounting doses of chemotherapy proving ineffective, doctors left her with one last-ditch option—a bone marrow transplant.  Casey’s chances of survival were pegged at 50-50, the equivalent of a coin flip.  

Time was running out, so Casey entered her name in a national donor registry.  Within three months, almost serendipitously, the Guerreros’ prayers were answered in January 2010, when a match was found via an anonymous donor in Germany.  With the surgery looming, the deadline was approaching for Robert to defend his junior lightweight world title or risk being stripped of it for inactivity.

“I had to make a decision, but in the end, it wasn’t hard.  Casey’s made so many sacrifices for me and the kids for so long, and on top of that, I’m a husband first,” Robert said.  “What’s all the fame without your family?”

Ultimately, Robert gave up the belt and stepped away from the sport temporarily to focus full-time on his family, which consisted of Casey and their two children, Savannah and Robert Jr., who were four and two years old at the time.   

While Casey recovered from her procedure at Stanford Hospital, Robert would tend to her during the day and then take on both parental roles back at home in Gilroy.  A typical evening with his son and daughter would entail household duties like fixing dinner, throwing Robert Jr.’s favorite Raiders shirt in the wash, or even braiding Savannah’s hair.

“I needed him,” Casey said of her husband playing Mr. Mom.  “I didn’t know if I was going to live or die.  I had faith in God that I would live to be here for my kids, but on the other side, I was scared also.  I didn’t care what anyone said, I was glad that my husband stuck by my side.”

Months later, doctors ruled that Casey’s blood count had returned to her regular levels and that she had defeated cancer, a triumph that undoubtedly trumps any knockout Robert could ever score over the course of his boxing days.  

“I just thank God everyday for all we have,” he said.  “When I went back to the gym, I just felt like a stronger and smarter person.”

Before Robert’s second bout back against Selcuk Aydin at HP Pavilion last July, the Guerreros had a special visitor.  It was Katharina Zech, a 20-year-old college student who was identified as Casey’s bone marrow donor.  Months before the fight, Zech traveled from Germany to Tuscon, Ariz., where Casey encountered her “angel” for the first time.

“When I finally met her, I was so nervous, but so excited that I was able to meet someone who was willing to save somebody’s life, so I felt blessed,” Casey said.

Robert went on to outduel Aydin and four months later, outslugged former titleholder Andre Berto, setting up a May 4 clash with Floyd Mayweather for the WBC welterweight world championship.  Despite her husband entering the matchup an 11-to-1 underdog, Casey feels that there’s nothing Robert can’t handle now.

“No one’s going to intimidate Robert.  No one can do that,” Casey said.  “We’ve been through struggles in the past.  [To win] will mean everything to us.  Big fight, big payday, we can go buy our house.  It would just change our lives.”

Join Casey and Robert Guerrero in their fight against cancer by becoming a donor at BeTheMatch.org.  In next week’s edition of “Ghost Stories,” we will revisit the only professional loss on Robert’s record and what fueled him to regain his competitive fire.