'Support therapy' helping Danville restauranteur battle cancer

April 09, 2004|HERB BROCK

Since she became co-owner of Freddie's Restaurant a decade ago, Denise Dettorre-Baca has served up plenty of good, homestyle Italian meals to hundreds of customers. But for a few special guests, she also has cooked up an a la carte special, and it's been on the house - empathy.

Dettorre-Baca twice had breast cancer and survived each bout. Over the years, some women customers with whom she has become friends have confided in her about their breast cancers. From her own experience with the disease, she has tried to boost their morale.

"I have met a number of women with breast cancer and tried to encourage them, but most of all, I've listened to them," she said. "Sadly, some of these women have lost their battles with cancer, but others have survived. Whatever their situation, I have tried to see them through it and support them any way I can."


Now, Dettorre-Baca is drawing strength from the same kind of support she has provided so many women over so many years. She has been hit by cancer a third time, and this form of the disease is an extremely rare variety that has attacked her heart.

Fighting for her life

In her other two battles, especially the second, she endured a lot of pain, but the prognoses were generally good. With this cancer, angiocarcinoma, she is fighting for her life.

More than a few soldiers have volunteered to help the 46-year-old Dettorre-Baca with her battle - and she has felt their support all the way from Arizona, where she is living with her father near a Mayo Clinic. At the clinic, she is receiving chemotherapy. From Danville, she is getting support therapy.

"The outpouring of love and support from my friends and customers back in Danville has really given me a morale boost," she said. "They have e-mailed me, written me, called me and sent me flowers. I have also received cards from local churches, where I have been on their prayer lists.

"I'm so appreciative of the support. It means so much to me to know I have so many friends, a real network of support."

One of the charter members of that "network," close friend Julie Graham, said the outreach to Dettorre-Baca is a spontaneous demonstration of "love and affection" for a woman who has "put her arm around so many other women who have been battling cancer." "I have never met anyone who loves life as much as Denise, loves being a mother as much as she does, or has tried to help people as much as she has," said Graham, who got to know Dettorre-Baca at SS. Peter and Paul Catholic Church, and during activities at Toliver Elementary School where their children have been students. "And, of course, I don't believe I've met a better cook, either.

"Denise needs more than 24 hours in her day because she's such a hard worker, balancing motherhood with a time-consuming and taxing career as a businesswoman and cook," she said. "But I also have never known anyone as strong or with as much courage as she has, and she's had to draw on every ounce of that courage during her battle.

"I just hope all the e-mails, calls, cards, letters and notes will let her know she doesn't have to rely on her own courage. She has a lot of people who are with her."

Her family is with her

Dettorre's family also is with her, though medical and financial conditions require her to be apart from her husband.

She moved with her son, Antonio, who is 9 years old, to Peoria, Ariz., several weeks ago to live with her father, Pasquale "Pat" Dettorre. His Peoria home is just an hour's drive to one of three Mayo Clinics in the country; the other two world-renowned medical centers are in Minnesota and Florida.

Meanwhile, her husband, John Baca, has remained in Danville, where he is trying to manage the 100-seat restaurant he and his wife have owned for 10 years. "I've turned into a workhorse, but it's been hard," said Baca. "I know how to mop and clean, but I'm not the best on the business end of things. Everyone here (on the staff and customers) has been very patient and helpful.

"I'm trying my best, but the restaurant isn't the same without Denise. A lot of people's lives aren't the same, either, with her not here, including mine. But she's doing what she has to do, and I totally support her."

Baca and Dettorre-Baca met in Phoenix in the early 1990s and moved in 1994 to Danville where they bought one of Danville's culinary institutions, Freddie's on South Fourth Street. It had been owned by the late Freddie DiCristafaro, a native of Italy.

While Dettorre-Baca is not a native Italian, she is close to it. "I grew up in New Jersey in a big, Italian family," she said. "I learned all my cooking from my mother, Rosemarie, and from my grandmother, Anna. The flavors and textures in the meals we serve at the restaurant can be traced to my mother and grandmother and, really, back to Italy.

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