By DANIEL SUTPHIN
PUNTA GORDA — Catherine Stewart, 54, can’t stop serving her community.
The former Punta Gorda Police Department officer was diagnosed with stage three multiple myeloma cancer in November 2018 and had to go on leave from her position.
After months of chemotherapy and other treatments, Stewart is back at the office, in good spirits and ready to serve.
But this time, as a volunteer.
“I could not be happier that Catherine is progressing so well,” said PGPD Chief Pam Davis. “The fact that she wants to be a volunteer for us just shows you the type of person she is. She wants to give back to this community even while recovering from her illness.
“She is so motivated and excited to be volunteering that I know we will have to make sure she slows down. I know I can speak for the entire PGPD family when I say we are all looking forward to having her back.”
PGPD announced her return on their Facebook page June 28.
“Today, we had a very special visitor at the Punta Gorda Police Department. Cathy Stewart made an appearance today which brought smiles to everyone’s face.
“(We are) so thankful to announce to you that Cathy has undergone many treatments and is in great spirits and feeling fantastic. It is such a blessing to see her back at the PD. Not only did she come to visit, she will now be one of our new volunteers here at the department.”
That post has garnered almost 800 likes and almost 80 comments since then.
“Nice to see her smiling and healthy!” wrote Punta Gorda Vice Mayor Lynne Matthews.
“You look fabulous! I’m so honored to know such a wonderful person & what an inspiration to all of us!” wrote Cheryl Muckleroy on the post.
This isn’t the fist time PGPD has taken to Facebook for Stewart.
On Jan. 29, PGPD posted a message explaining that officers were growing goatees — against department policy — as a sign of support for Stewart.
Response from the community was so big that the department started a GoFundMe account for Stewart on the same day. In that single day, they were able to raise $8,278 with a $10,000 goal.
As of July 11, 2019, Stewart’s GoFundMe has raised $14,343 with a $15,000 goal.
In January, Stewart told the Sun that she wasn’t used to all the attention.
“It is kind of overwhelming and just the beautiful kind words that people are saying about me personally ... it’s not expected and I’m very thankful,” said Steward.
She couldn’t immediately be reached for comment Thursday.
Multiple myeloma is a rare cancer that forms in a type of white blood cell called a plasma cell. Those cells accumulate in the bone marrow, where they crowd out healthy blood cells.
Five years ago, little was known about multiple myeloma, according to Stewart, but many studies and research have been conducted since then on this kind of cancer.
“The medication is incredible. It came a long way in just a very short period of time,” Stewart said.
Stewart is the mother of two teenagers: a son who attends Florida Southwestern State College and a daughter who is a senior at Charlotte High School.
She joined PGPD in August. Before that, she had spent around 30 years as an officer with the Charlotte County Sheriff’s Office before retiring.
Despite the diagnosis and the difficulties, Stewart has stayed positive throughout the process.
“Always think positive. Keep a really good attitude if you do end up getting diagnosed with cancer,” Stewart said. “(And) please make sure that you build relationships because relationships are so important. I have such a phenomenal group around me and I couldn’t do it without them.”