Inspiring Stories: A father's leukemia through his daughter's eyes

December 1, 2014 | by City of Hope

On Jan. 1, 2015, six City of Hope patients who have journeyed through cancer will welcome the new year with their loved ones atop City of Hope's Tournament of Roses Parade float. The theme of the float is "Made Possible by HOPE." The theme of the parade is "Inspiring Stories."

In 2007, Christina Ge’s father, Jin, faced the fight of his life when his leukemia relapsed. In 2009, she wrote about his journey as only a child of 11 could – filled with the fear she faced and the hope she kept. Now 17, Christina and her sister, Cynthia, will ride the float with their father. They'll celebrate their story, one that took hold on New Year’s Day after a successful cord blood transplant.

Christina and Cynthia Ge enjoying some play time at City of Hope while their father recovers from a bone marrow transplant. (Courtesy of the Ge family) While visiting City of Hope in their (slightly) younger days, Christina and Cynthia Ge make time for play while their father recovers from a bone marrow transplant. (Photo courtesy of  the Ge family)

By Christina Ge

Mom and Dad came home one day, frowning as they have never frowned before. My dad slowly entered my room and said quietly, "Christina, I have leukemia again.” I froze, suddenly feeling somber. Then my dad said, "Time for dinner.”

At dinner, we did not talk much, exchanging only one or two words. That night I lay in my bed thinking, “Why does it have to be my dad that has to have leukemia again? Why can’t it be some other person? Some other person - not my dad." I lay there thinking hard until sleep finally took over.

The next morning Daddy went to Stanford Hospital to see the doctor. He didn’t come back home at night. His doctor kept him in the hospital, starting a chemotherapy treatment right away. Dad told us he had acute leukemia. To survive from this disease, he would have to have a bone marrow transplant from a person who had the same type of marrow as him. If Dad found a matched marrow donor, the doctor would first wipe out Dad’s immune system and old marrow, then they would transplant in a donor’s healthy bone marrow. If the new marrow could get along with Daddy’s body and generate new healthy blood cells, Dad would have a new life. But if they didn't work together, then my dad would fade away into a place called heaven.

My mom would visit Dad at the hospital every day. Sometimes she would sleep over, leaving us at home with our grandpa. With our parents gone, we felt lonely, cold and sometimes scared with an empty house without our parents around. That year, winter seemed to come so early. On the morning of Thanksgiving, my sister and I went to my Jiu Gong Gong’s home for the holiday because Mom and Dad were not at home. Jiu Gong Gong is my grandma’s cousin. That night, when we got back home, we got a big surprise. Daddy and Mommy were home! Dad looked so tired and sick, but he came back home right on Thanksgiving Day, after a whole month in the hospital.

One December day, my dad accidentally got an infection as his white blood cell count was very low. The infection was so bad that the doctor said he must report to the emergency room immediately. Mom called her friend over in the middle of night to watch us while she drove my dad to the hospital near our house. The next morning, my mom sent us to school, but Dad stayed in the intensive care unit.

Grandpa took care of us after school, while my mom was at work. My dad came home two weeks later, very weak but fine. As soon as my dad came home, we got the good news that the doctor finally found a bone marrow donor for Daddy. We were all very excited.

But when they were about to do the treatment, the donor suddenly said no. My mom and dad were very, very disappointed. Again the search for a match began.

Donated cord blood ready for transplant to Jin Ge.  (Courtesy: the Ge family) Donated cord blood is ready for transplant to Jin Ge. (Photo courtesy of the Ge family)

The doctors searched and searched but could not find another donor. After months of no hope, the doctors suggested to try a new way to cure his leukemia – with baby cord blood cells. My parents agreed to try it, so the doctors searched all the cord blood collecting areas in the world, finding two matches – one from a boy and one from a girl. At the last day of Thanksgiving break 2007, my dad and mom went to a hospital in Los Angeles called City of Hope that specializes in leukemia and stem cell transplants.

On December 7, 2007, Daddy got his transplant. The doctor called this day “Day Zero” – Daddy’s new birthday day. This day is my sister’s birthday, too.

Day after day, we waited, hoping the transplant was a success. Then on the first day of the new year in 2008, Daddy’s white blood cell began to grow to 0.1, and the next day 0.3.

It was a miracle. A new life grew with the new year.

In late February, my Jiu Gong Gong and Jiu Po Po took me, my sister and my aunt to Los Angeles to see our parents for the first time in 100 days. The trip was long but my sister and I hardly complained. We were very excited. When we arrived at City of Hope, it was nearly time for dinner. My mom met us and brought us to a small house they lived in at the hospital called Hope Village. To my disappointment, my dad was not in the house. He was still in the hospital since he got a disease called CMV [cytomegalovirus], which is very dangerous to transplant patients. After dinner, we went to see Dad.

Leukemia patient, Jin Ge, received a visit from the The 2008 Tournament of Roses Court at City of Hope. Leukemia patient Jin Ge receives a visit from the 2008 Tournament of Roses Court at City of Hope. (Photo courtesy of the Ge family)

Before we entered his room, we had to wear this huge yellow robe, shoe coverings, blue gloves and a facemask. It took a very long time to put the things all on, but since we were only allowed to see my dad this way we were happy to do it. Plus it was pretty fun to put it all on. In my dad’s hospital room, we all laughed together and my sister and I put on a little show of song singing. The next morning we visited my dad again and went to the village garden to play.

During spring break in April, we went to visit my dad again with my Aunt Summer, another one of my many aunts. This time my dad was out of the hospital and living in the village house, where we lived for a whole week. We spent our days exploring new gardens and taking many pictures of what we saw, and as a family together.

When the week was over and it was time to leave, we suddenly received a piece of wonderful news. Our dad was allowed to come home with us for just one day. It was the first time he had been home since November. The doctor also said when my dad got better he would be able to stay home permanently, visiting the City of Hope hospital every two weeks for a little time.

Leukemia survivor Jin Ge and Family The Ges celebrate Christmas together in 2008. (Photo courtesy of the Ge family)

With my aunt’s help our house was free of germs, and we always had good things to eat. But in May she had to go back to China because her visa was nearly expired.

After lots of thought and thinking, my mom and dad decided to send us to China with my aunt. We would miss one whole month of school. In China, we lived at our grandparents' house in Shen Zhen. Even though we were having great fun in China, we still missed our parents very much. When we returned to America in late August, I found my dad better than before, though still very thin.

Today is February 15, 2009, and I now conclude my story with my dad getting better and better and my family happy and together.

**

Read more about City of Hope's Rose Parade float.

Learn more about becoming a patient or getting a second opinion at City of Hope by visiting our website or by calling 800-826-HOPE (4673). City of Hope staff will explain what's required for a consult at City of Hope and help you determine, before you come in, whether or not your insurance will pay for the appointment.

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