Alice Ottero will never forget the routine doctor visit that changed everything.
"I had back pain and I just thought it was soreness (from working out)," Ottero said. But the blood tests came back and Ottero was diagnosed with Stage 3 bone cancer.
The news came as a shock.
Ottero is one of those people who never drank or smoked.
She lived a healthy life. She taught fitness classes for 17 years.
The cancer diagnosis wasn't easy to accept, but Ottero had support. Ottero has lived in Payson for 24 years and has a close network of friends and she has a loving husband, Mike, who has supported her from the day she learned what she was facing.
And she has her faith. Ottero said she found relief from death knowing she'd meet peace on the other end.
"That's how I made it through," Ottero said. "Sure I had to cry. I'm still in this yucky human body. Of course, I'm scared, but I don't dwell on it."
Ottero's bone cancer was aggressive and painful.
"The tumor was growing through the bone," Ottero said. "It was huge."
To shrink the tumor, Ottero received radiation treatments.
Four robust rounds of chemotherapy followed. The last two doses were particularly strident to prepare her body for the stem-cell transplant.
"I was in the hospital for two weeks," she said. "It was one of the worst things I've been through.
"(The chemotherapy) killed off all my saliva glands so I ate ice chips by the ton, but it didn't help."
Doctors removed a sample of Ottero's bone marrow and extracted the stem cells, which contain disease-fighting properties. The cells are cleaned of the cancer, frozen and reintroduced in the body where they begin renewing healthy cells.
As her body rebuilds its immune system after the treatment, Ottero must live in isolation for 200 days.
Ottero's house is as sterile as a laboratory.
To keep her body infection-free, she follows an antibacterial diet. It consists of processed foods, mainly frozen meals and meat. Fruits and vegetables are out of the question because they harbor bacteria.
"You couldn't make me something and bring it to me," she said. "You don't realize how much bacteria you have in your house. I have to have a clean towel every day. I change my sheets two times a week. I have to Clorox the bathroom every time it's used. I have to Clorox everything."
"I'm still pretty tired," she said.
"But I'm going to start walking. I don't care what people think of me with my (germ protective) mask on."
Though she is fragile, Ottero's prognosis is good.
The transplanted cells, she said, started to grow immediately, and her blood work shows progress.
"Sure I have my bad days," she said. "I just want my life back."
"We look forward to having her back at work," said Carpenter's Wife owner, Kristie Dillman.
"She's the spark in the store. She's the life of the party."
To offset the cost of Ottero's medical bills, friends and coworkers will host a benefit tea Sunday, April 2.
"When someone gets sick like that I say, ‘There but for the grace of God go I," said coworker Leonie Dobbins. "I just feel that if you can help someone you should."
Tea service, including 10 different cakes, begins at noon, April 2 at The Carpenter's Wife, 112 W. Wade Lane.
To attend Ottero's benefit or to make a contribution, contact The Carpenter's Wife at (928) 472-4446.