Kao Saeteurn



Tell us a bit about yourself and your background. Where you grew up, where you live now, family and pets… anything goes! 

I’ve lived in Sacramento since I was 18 months old. My parents were born in Laos, but during the Vietnam War they moved to Thailand on foot. I was born in Thailand in a refugee camp near the end of the war. I have four brothers and one sister. My sister is the youngest and I'm the oldest. All of us live in Sacramento county. My family has done so much for me, especially through my illness and treatments.  

A few years ago, I was having an ear problem, so I went to the doctor for hearing tests and a nasal X-ray. I was given antibiotics and then an ear tube, but they didn’t work. Then one day, I found a little bump on my neck. They did another X-ray and told me I had cancer — a very rare type of nasopharyngeal cancer. The doctors said there wasn’t much hope.

I kept working as much as I could before I started radiation and chemotherapy. If I was home all the time, I would just be depressed versus being part of The Jackson Laboratory and providing safety and security for the scientists and people searching for cures. I kept hoping that maybe there is a cure out there for me.

After my second week of treatment, I collapsed and my heart stopped on the way to the hospital in the ambulance. I had emergency surgery and to everyone’s surprise, I survived. It’s been over a year now. I have more tests coming up, but right now everything is good. There is too much on the line for me to give up now.

What hobbies or interests do you enjoy in your free time?

I have always loved exploring new landscapes and neighborhoods and trying new food, but all those months of being bedridden during my treatments made me love it even more. I once drove to Idaho to visit a giant waterfall that I read about, and I often love to visit Japanese gardens in random cities or walk by the ocean. Everywhere is beautiful. It all depends on how you approach things. You just have to be present to realize how beautiful everything is. I have lots of pictures of all my adventures and I like to share them on social media with motivational quotes or stuff to make people laugh.

Tell us about someone in your life who inspired you or helped you become who you are today.

Everyone I meet, everyone I talk to inspires me. But if I had to pick one person, it's my dad. He was born deaf and mute. He brought us from Thailand to the U.S. Both my mom and dad are very supportive. The struggles they have gone through and continue to go through give me the strength I need for tomorrow.

What do you do really well? Is there anything you wish you could improve?

I was always open-minded but now that I’ve had cancer, I'm very open-minded. There is always hope for everything. We must be open-minded about everything and believe and hope because there's always something out there. I share my story on social media and love it when people want to talk to me. I also try to stay optimistic. Right now, every day is a struggle, but it is also a gift. Do I get tired? Absolutely! Will I give up? NEVER!  

What’s an accomplishment you are really proud of? Is there something you want to do, but haven't done yet?

My doctors are confused because they said 99% of people wouldn't be where I am today and the other 1% wouldn’t be walking. I survived cancer, treatments and heart surgery and I came back to work in less than a year. They sent me to physical therapy and sent me home the next day after seeing me able to walk on my own. I was given walking wheels, but I never had to use them.

Everything I’ve gone through can be shared in hopes of giving more people the strength to have hope in their own lives. I am proof that there is hope for tomorrow. I'm here because my family still needs me to be. I'm here because my book is not finished. I have more chapters to add.

My family, colleagues and friends have been so supportive. I am thankful for everyone being there ever since day one. I made a promise to myself that I will get through this for them. And here I am. I kept my promise.

Let’s talk about your career journey. What inspired you to go into your current field? What first brought you to JAX? Has your job changed since you joined?

I started working at JAX as a contracted Security. JAX opened the first Sacramento facility about 12 years ago. As a contracted officer appointment to JAX, it was the best place for me to be working. JAX decided to go in-house with the security team and I was grateful to be a part of the changes. Things have changed a lot since I started, for the better!

How do explain your current work to others? What’s your favorite thing about it?

I'm a senior security officer in the Sacramento facilities, and I help lead the security and front desk team. My coworkers have been so supportive of me.  People reached out to me, even top management, and sent me messages to get better. A close friend helped set up a GoFundMe page. Many made donations, even employees that I've never met before. People would send me messages that they’d heard about what I was going through and wish me well. You know, in those situations, everything counts. It's not about the money, it's the love and support. I feel grateful to be a part of the JAX family, doing my part with my team, to help JAX lead the search for tomorrow’s cures. This place is like a second home to me.  

Anything else you'd like to share?

You are stronger than you think, so never feel hopeless. It's not death that we are afraid of. It is getting to the end of life only to realize that you never truly lived. You have survived everything you've gone through up to this point. The best days of your life are still yet to come. Our lives are like a book — there is a front cover and back cover, but everything in between is written by us. Add pages and chapters to give others hope.