Diagnosis: Cancer. Treatment: Transplant. How Local Survivors Found Their Matches

Diagnosis: Cancer. Treatment: Transplant. How Local Survivors Found Their Matches

Sabine (name changed), a Hazel Dell mother, Göran, a Vancouver father and grandfather, and Olivia, a 3-year-old from Ridgefield who loves rainbows, all share at least three things in common: they’ve all been diagnosed with cancer, and they were all eventually told a transplant would be the best treatment. Through a blend of technology, medicine, networking and generosity, each found a second chance at life—from perfect strangers.

Sabine’s Story

Sabine, a dear friend of mine,decided it was time to see a doctor when she began experiencing severe rib pain, among other symptoms. “I mentioned exhaustion and low-grade fevers,” she recalled. “My blood counts were off the chart, but he wanted to wait one week.” Sabine retested. That same day her doctor “called me at home.” He directed her to “go to ER within the hour and tell them I sent you.“ In the emergency room, Sabine received two transfusions and a bag of platelets and was told, “You’re not going home tonight.” It was the beginning of a five-week stay at two different hospitals. Professionals at PeaceHealth first diagnosed her with chronic myeloid leukemia (CML), then changed the diagnosis to acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL), atypical for an adult. PeaceHealth could not treat her so she transferred to OHSU. “Within the first week, they had a treatment plan,” Sabine shared. “First, I needed to get into remission, then I would be ready for a transplant. My oncologist said a successful transplant could be a complete cure.”

Göran’s Story

“I became ill on a ski trip and went to the ER,” Göran Martinson shared with me. “They took blood tests; the results concerned them. I was diagnosed with a rare, chronic blood cancer called myelofibrosis (MF) where a bone marrow defect eventually causes scar tissue to develop. It’s a cancer that can take up to 10 years before a transplant is needed. That was in April 2009. [By] September 2018, I needed a transplant.”

Olivia’s Story

Olivia’s mother, Lori Sexton, shared her daughter’s story with me.

“In Oct 2018 I saw some faint yellow in the far corner of Olivia’s eyes. You could only see it when she was looking to the side. One Saturday morning, after at her soccer class, I asked another mom—a doctor—to look. She said I should take Olivia in on Monday. We continued texting about how Olivia’s poop was getting lighter in color and her urine darker, like she was dehydrated. We both decided I’d better take her to urgent care. Olivia was only 1 year old. By lunchtime we were at urgent care where the doctor didn’t see the yellow I [had seen]. However, once she felt Olivia’s tummy, she could tell her liver was enlarged. Their lab wasn’t open weekends; she sent us to the ER. At the ER, Olivia’s bloodwork showed elevated levels, indicating something wrong with her liver. Around midnight they sent us to Randall Children’s Hospital. The next two or three weeks were spent running every test imaginable, all coming back negative. Olivia continued to get worse, her whole body turning yellow, and her numbers off the charts. They determined she had idiopathic (unknown type) hepatitis. She started on meds and slowly started recovering. On November 5, 2018—my birthday—we were at the doctor for follow-up. Olivia’s platelets and white and red counts dropped. Eventually, they diagnosed her with very severe aplastic anemia (AA), a rare condition in which the body can’t produce enough new blood cells. They first started talking about a bone marrow transplant in December 2018.”

Donors Needed

Sabine, Göran and Olivia all faced the same hope and the same challenge: finding a perfectly matched bone marrow donor.

Read the rest of this article in the full digital issue below.

Learn more about becoming a donor, plus follow Olivia’s journey:

  • In honor of the 99 blood transfusions Olivia received during the course of her treatment, her family is hosting a virtual blood drive with the goal of inspiring 99 people to pledge to give blood at any local Red Cross blood drive. Learn more here.

Dana Greyson is a freelance writer and a frequent VFM contributor on health, travel and relationship topics. She’s writing her first memoir about her tropical sailboat escape, due out later this year. For a sample chapter visit She blogs about her sailing adventures on Galley Wench Tales.

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