What I learned: 6 lessons from lymphoma survivor Christine Pechera

December 17, 2015 | by Robin Heffler

When Christine Pechera was first diagnosed with an aggressive form of non-Hodgkin lymphoma more than 10 years ago, her doctors couldn’t stop the spread of the disease. It wasn’t until she turned to City of Hope that Christine found not only the treatment that saved her life, but a community she continues to rely on for support, comfort and friendship.

After undergoing a bone marrow transplant at City of Hope, Christine was in remission for two-and-a-half years. When the cancer returned, she faced an additional hurdle.

Christine’s greatest chance for survival was to get a bone marrow transplant. But, as a woman of mixed ethnic heritage, her odds of finding a bone marrow match within her ethnic group proved difficult.

Undaunted, one City of Hope nurse diligently searched for Christine worldwide, until she found a partial match, a man on the Hong Kong bone marrow registry. Armed with that donor’s stem cells, the medical and support staff at City of Hope used their expertise and compassion to provide lifesaving treatment to Christine. She has now been cancer-free for eight years.

In 2014, Christine fulfilled a wish by riding on the City of Hope’s float in the Tournament of Roses Parade, proof that even hard-to-treat patients can overcome cancer and be optimistic about their future.

“What makes City of Hope different is the love and support of the entire City of Hope community: its doctors, staff, volunteers and supporters,” Christine said. “While it’s the job of doctors and nurses to treat illness, the patient support staff takes care of the soul. They keep us sane and remind us of our humanity during our care.”

That support included hugs when Christine felt down about the demands of treatment, as well as help with finding patient resources such as arts-and-crafts, music therapy, and sometimes just a warm cup of tea and a kind ear.

Staff members went above and beyond their duties to support Christine’s mother as well, recognizing that caretakers are often overburdened and overlooked as they struggle to stay strong for their loved ones. 

“One night a cleaning lady heard my mother crying,” Christine said. “She went home, baked a casserole, came back with it and spent the evening with my mother. Another time, the nurses brought my mom, who is also a nurse, a cake on her birthday. For her to have that kind of support, connection and camaraderie made a huge difference at a time when she was feeling alone and out of control because of my illness.”

Today, Christine returns to City of Hope for follow-up visits, and keeps in touch with other survivors she befriended while in treatment. She is earning a Masters of Fine Arts degree at Pepperdine University, and is now married.

Christine is also one of the inspiring patients whose stories have been collected in “The Miracle of Science with Soul,” a campaign that highlights City of Hope’s unique approach to patient treatment. Here, Christine shares six things she has learned about how to deal with a cancer diagnosis.

1.  Be an active patient.

Ask questions and communicates with your doctor about how you are feeling, both physically and emotionally.

2. Listen to your favorite music to soothe your soul.

Music gives you a break from the cancer “bubble.” On treatment days, take an iPod with you to let music relax you while sitting in the waiting room.

3. Remember that your loved ones want to help.

Even if they don’t show support in the way you want them to, they’re doing their best. Give them something constructive to do, such as looking up support groups in your area or picking up groceries.

4. When doctors alert you to the side effects of treatment on your fertility or other areas of your health, take them seriously.

Get informed on the possible threat that your cancer treatment may pose on your body. This will give you an opportunity to prepare yourself and your loved ones, and explore your options.

5. Give yourself time to heal and rest.

Rushing back to “normal life” may put you back into the hospital with infections, fatigue or other medical complications. Give yourself permission to take things slow in the beginning, until you have more energy.

6. Seek out other survivors.

Not only will you be inspired by their stories, they’ll be inspired by yours. Realize that cancer doesn’t define you as a person. You are still the same person that you were before being diagnosed. Don’t forget who you are.

Watch Christine's inspiring story below.

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If you are looking for a second opinion about your lymphoma diagnosis or consultation about your treatment, request an appointment online or contact us at 800-826-HOPE. Please visit Making Your First Appointment for more information.

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