Probation Staff Rally Around Sick Co-worker

Probation Officer Barry Calabrese, center, is flanked by Probation officer Art Mejia and Brian Day.

Probation Officer Barry Calabrese, center, is flanked by Probation officer Art Mejia and Brian Day.

Supervising Probation Officer Barry Calabrese is at work most days at East Mesa Juvenile Detention Facility. Several co-workers take it upon themselves to check up on him several times during the day to make sure he is hydrated and getting some nutrition.

That’s because Calabrese has terminal kidney cancer.

“I go to work as much as I possibly can. I like my job and I like the people I work with. It’s a very supportive job. The people I work with make it a supportive place,” says Calabrese, 53, who has been with the department for 17 years. “Probation is a family and I truly mean it. I don’t just say this lightly.”

Calabrese says after receiving his diagnosis from his doctor in early 2015, he went to his supervisor and stepped down from his job as acting division chief for medical reasons. His doctor had given him just two to three months to live without treatment, he says. He has sought the best treatment available since that time, including a trial at the City of Hope in Los Angeles. At that time, many of his co-workers pledged they would take time off to drive him back and forth to Los Angeles, but recently his doctor told him the treatment was no longer working for him.

“It’s just kind of an emotional roller coaster for most of us here,” said Mindy McCartney, division chief for East Mesa Juvenile Detention Facility, of Calabrese’s health. “But he’s amazing because he’s so strong and positive. He comes to work and he works every bit as hard even when he’s in pain or not feeling 100 percent. Nothing has changed as far as his work ethic.”

Early on, McCartney says she and a small group of Probation staff who are close to Calabrese got together after work and made a plan of what they wanted to do for him and his family. They have since held various barbecue lunch fundraisers, a “blueBarry” pancake breakfast fundraiser, and sold T-shirts, rubber bracelets, and window stickers in support of him.

Retired Senior Probation Officer Delmont McClain, officers Claudia Legorreta and Julie Abdala model the BC style T-shirts made for Calabrese at a recent bbq lunch.She says it has brought their department together in many ways because Probation offices are spread out throughout the County, but many from all around make it a point to come out to East Mesa to have lunch together and raise money for Calabrese.

Through the San Diego Probation Officers Association, they set up an account for Calabrese. They have also donated portions of sales for a Dodgers-Padres game. The POA helped sponsor the recent American Cancer Society’s Relay for Life and formed a team of up to 50 Probation staff for the 24-hour walkathon, says Ernie Susi, POA president.

Part of the Relay for Life Probation team that walked in for Calabrese and other Probation family members.He notes that while Calabrese’s fight with cancer initially inspired the team, they learned that several other Probation staff are also going through similar battles, and they walked in their honor as well.

Ultimately, they raised approximately $5,800 for cancer research, Susi says.

The walkathon was held from 10 a.m. Saturday, June 25 through 10 a.m. Sunday, June 26 at a Chula Vista elementary school. This year’s theme was Star Wars, so the Probation team had T-shirts made up that said “Stop Cancer. May the Cure Be With You.  Probation Strong,” said Susi. Others showed up in their “BC” T-shirts to support Calabrese.

Deputy Probation Officer Kelley Breman, who has been touched by cancer, designed this cardboard car for one of the legs of the walk-a-thon.Calabrese attended the event and says the amount of support is “tremendous” and he is overwhelmed by his co-workers’ generosity and kindness to him and his family.

“The department has helped me have a positive outlook,” he says.

Calabrese says he stays positive because he believes it helps him in his cancer fight, and he adds, his alternative is to be miserable and then no one would want to be around him.

Calabrese and his daughter Megan attended the Relay for Life event in support of the team.

Yet, he is also matter-of-fact about his health and says the last four months have been especially tough as the treatments are no longer helping to alleviate his symptoms and he has lost considerable weight.

“It is what it is,” he says of his diagnosis. “A lot of people are going through this. You can’t be afraid to die. I’m good with God and me and my family. The good thing with cancer is you have time to get things in order. The people in Orlando they didn’t have time.”

Another group shot of the Relay for Life team who walked to raise money for cancer research.He says he can’t imagine how other people who are battling cancer can cope without support from their family and friends.

“If I had a regular office job where no one was supportive of me, I’d probably be home on medical leave,” he says.