Gina Koehler

I was diagnosed with Chronic Myeloid Leukemia on May 25, 2010. I went to the Dr on my lunch hour from work, completely blindsided by this life-altering news. I had had a complete physical with lab work just 6 months earlier! But, I was “lucky” according to the oncologist because I was in a chronic stage & the disease should respond well to daily oral chemo. Luckily, it did & I often asked my doctor if perhaps there was a mistake in my diagnosis because I felt pretty much normal. Well, I felt good for 3 1/2 years until late November of 2013 when I started to notice that I was having difficulty breathing when doing anything remotely strenuous like climbing stairs or shoveling snow. Then while baking Christmas cookies in December, I burned my left thumb slightly on the hot oven rack. Within 4 days it was painful & infected so I made an appointment with my primary Doctor (over my lunch hour again!). She took one look at my thumb, noticed the red line snaking up my arm from the infection & sent me to the ER. Once I got in to see the Dr there, he took one look at me & said “we’re admitting you.”

Once my bloodwork was done & analyzed, the oncologist came into my room & told me that I was in a life-threatening blast crisis. He said that if I had waited to come in a day or so longer, I might not have lived till the end of the year! It was December 16th! He also told me that I would need to be in the hospital for at least 3-4 weeks & that they were transferring me to the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania for the induction chemo regimen! It was hard news to take but I felt confident in their recommendations. So, I spent the Christmas & New Year holidays in the hospital.

After the initial induction stay, I had 4 more extended hospital stays for continuous chemo treatments which were not easy. All this was in preparation for a stem cell transplant as soon as I was in a “good remission”. My sister was my 10 out of 10 match for a donor & we were ecstatic! In preparation for the transplant I had to endure 2 days of heavy IV chemo & 6 full body radiation treatments in an effort to destroy ALL my leukemia cells & also all of my white blood cells. Then on May 1, 2014, my sister donated her stem cells & I was the lucky recipient. As of today, July 6th, 2014, I am 67 days post transplant & I am doing very well. At my last Dr appointment a few days ago, I have assumed 99% of my sisters DNA from her cells & I feel pretty good. I know that I still have a long & tricky road ahead of me but right now I am enjoying the warm summer breezes on my front porch & I am truly grateful to God for getting me this far. My goal right now is to just get a little better every day & to be feeling good for my only daughter’s wedding in October. My first milestone will be day 100 post transplant. At that point, I should be at 100% of my sister’s DNA & I should be allowed to eat something take out – I am dying for a piece of pizzeria pizza & a Burger King whopper & fries!

While I was in the hospital recovering from the transplant, I never felt so awful. It was the most difficult thing I have ever experienced & I had a lot of time to think. The doctors & nurses kept telling me that I would feel better soon, that I would “get over the hump” & I would start to actually heal. It was very hard to believe them at the time but now looking back, I think I can say that I feel so good now because I felt so bad then. I pray every day for continued healing.