Leif Rose Parade | City of Hope

Leukemia patient defies ‘death sentence’ with stem cell transplant

City of Hope’s eponymous float embodies the 2020 Rose Parade theme, “The Power of Hope.” There can be no hope if there is no future. The leading-edge treatments and compassionate care City of Hope provides give people the gift of time to live their best life.
Ten patients will ride on the float. They came to City of Hope to beat the odds and live a long life filled with joyous moments with family and friends.
Mount Shasta, California, resident Leif Voeltz was 63 years old when he was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia and fell into a coma. He was given a 5% chance of surviving, then a 2% chance of surviving once his liver started to fail. He came to City of Hope and received a successful stem cell transplant from a donor in Germany. (Read more about his cancer journey here.)
Now 68 and cancer-free, Voeltz reflects on his cancer journey as he mentally prepares to start the new year on a rosy note aboard City of Hope’s Rose Parade float.
After your diagnosis, what were your main worries and challenges?
I was slow to realize how grave my illness was. My wife, Lacy, and the rest of my family, however, were up-to-speed about my diagnosis, treatment options and prognosis. During that time, Lacy and the doctors made those key decisions that saved my life.
Once I regained consciousness, I could not walk or feed myself and realized life as I had known it had to be boxed and put on a shelf until I dealt with my illness. Because of the support I had and because I had good insurance coverage, I was able to focus on recovering. That was a luxury.
Why did you decide to come to City of Hope?
The reasons are twofold. Two of the physicians who treated me at another hospital spoke highly of City of Hope. Additionally, my friend had worked with Dr. Stephen Forman, so she called him on my behalf. Dr. Forman was gracious enough to counsel Lacy and I as we continued our treatment at the other hospital. When my acute myeloid leukemia returned after that initial treatment, it was a no brainer to go to Dr. Forman and City of Hope for a transplant.
What would you like to share about the specialized treatment you received at City of Hope?
I felt like I was a special patient at City of Hope; everyone was pulling for me. I received individualized care tailored to my situation. It’s obvious City of Hope treats tens of thousands of patients annually, but I never felt like I was given a cookie-cutter treatment. Everyone from the maintenance workers, receptionists, phlebotomists and, of course, the nurses, aides and doctors were doing their best for me.
You are now cancer-free. How has your perspective on life changed?
I have always felt I am very lucky. I’ve had a life full of love, adventure, kindness and grace from those around me. I am at peace and try to share my good fortune with family, friends and people who need help. I prioritize my energies. I often ask myself when I’m confronted with a difference of opinion or stressful situation, “What really matters here?” Usually the stressful situation is not among my life’s priorities, so I am more patient with myself and others.
I have realized since the day I became ill that everything is a gift. I want to share that gift. I bathe in the love I have with my wife and family.
Why would you recommend City of Hope to other people seeking treatment for cancer, diabetes or life-threatening diseases?
I spent six months at City of Hope. Every day I was treated with kindness and patience while I received care that kept me alive and cured me. I cannot imagine a more caring staff and a higher standard of care. When I visit for checkups, I enjoy the time. In spite of a tough diagnosis and treatment during my illness, I have good memories and positive thoughts when I return.
How did “The Power of Hope,” this year’s Rose Parade theme, help bring you back to health?
I was on shaky ground several times during my treatment, but I was carried by the love of my family and excellence of the care at City of Hope. I never lost hope. It was helpful that my nurses and doctors always projected optimism.