December 13, 2012

Team Ginny Backing Local Nurse's Battle Against Leukemia

Community members have banded together to form Team Ginny in support of long-time Scotland County nurse Ginny Monroe, who is battling leukemia.

After more than 30 years of being the person folks went to for medical help, a recent turn of events has placed a long-time local nurse in the care of her community.

Ginny Monroe is currently a resident at the Siteman Cancer Center in Barnes Jewish Hospital in St. Louis awaiting a bone marrow transplant. Monroe was recently diagnosed with Acute Myelogenous Leukemia.

Monroe is in her first year as the school nurse for the Scotland County R-I School District. Prior to that she has worked at the hospital, care center and most recently at the Scotland County Health Department. She also has served for more than two decades as the county coroner.

According to the National Bone Marrow Program, Acute Myelogenous Leukemia (AML) is a fast-growing cancer of the blood and bone marrow. The disease causes the bone marrow to make many unformed cells called blasts. In healthy situations blasts normally develop into white blood cells that fight infection. The abnormal blasts caused by AML do not fully develop and thus cannot fight infections.

The disease can also cause bone marrow to make abnormal red blood cells and platelets. These leukemia cancer cells grow quickly, crowding out the normal red blood cells, white blood cells and platelets the body needs.

While she is a long way from home in Memphis, she's still in the hearts and on the minds of plenty of folks in Scotland County. After the news of Ginny's illness broke in early November, supporters started rallying to her side. Not long after she learned the news of her cancer, Team Ginny was formed.

Now over 700 hundred strong, the supporting cast are easily identifiable by the lime green shirts worn by team members who proudly bear the logo of Fighting with Ginny.

Staff members at the Scotland County Courthouse showed their team spirit this week, posing for a photo for Team Ginny.

The team started just days after the family learned of Ginny's illness. A number of family friends bonded together with the idea.

"Have you ever been touched by Ginny Monroe?" the team's Facebook page questioned at the outset of the support movement. "Have you ever felt her love, her compassion, her power, her strength, her knowledge, her empathy, or her passion for life" I don't know of a soul in this community that hasn't been affected by Ginny in some way. So, today we want to give back to Ginny and show her how much we LOVE and care for her."

The team jerseys offered instant photo opportunities, with groups, small and large, snapping a picture to send to Ginny or post on the Team Ginny Facebook page.

The sales also are being used as a fundraiser for the family to offset travel and medical costs.

There has been plenty of travel. Ginny finally succumbed to the symptoms after battling fatigue for numerous weeks. On November 5th, she contacted her daughter, Amy Gaudette, and told her she wasn't feeling well and needed to go to the hospital.

A series of tests quickly revealed problems with her blood counts. Doctors at Scotland County Hospital agreed, that she needed to be transferred to Blessing Hospital in Quincy, IL for further tests due to concerns regarding leukemia.

Those fears were realized when oncologists agreed with the initial diagnosis. The decision was made to fly Ginny to Siteman Cancer Center, which is ranked as one of the top 10 cancer centers in the nation.

Like most of the roughly 12,000 patients nationwide are diagnosed with AML each year, Ginny underwent the standard first phase of treatment, induction chemotherapy.

The National Bone Marrow Program explains that the goal of induction chemotherapy is to bring the disease into remission, which is when the patient's blood counts return to normal and bone marrow samples show no sign of disease (less than 5% of cells are leukemia cells).

The process is extremely intense, generally lasting just one week, with a period of three to four weeks allowed for the patient to recover from the treatment. Experts say that induction brings a complete remission in about 70% to 80% of adults under age 60.

Despite the typical side effects of the traumatizing drugs, Ginny soldiered through the first round of treatment, and in true Ginny fashion, told family members she "definitely wasn't coming home to Memphis head first".

On December 1st, the doctors announced plans to begin a second round of chemotherapy, featuring smaller dosages. The plan is upon completion to begin working on a bone marrow transplant.

While successful induction chemotherapy destroys the majority of the leukemia cells, remnants exists and if not destroyed, these cells can cause relapse.

Ginny has begun the second phase of chemotherapy, which is often called consolidation chemotherapy. The goal of consolidation chemotherapy is to destroy any remaining leukemia cells.

The family received good news in December. Ginny's brother, O.J. Simpson, is a match, and will be able to serve as the bone marrow donor.

This will be an allogeneic transplant, replacing the patient's bone marrow with healthy blood-forming cells from a family member. The process is the most invasive of treatment options, but also offers a much lower risk of relapse.

While the treatment plans have changed over her weeks at the hospital, one thing has remained constant, the support of Team Ginny members.

"I don't deserve all this attention. I am so scared and overwhelmed with this, but the prayers, calls, cards, visits and every other act of kindness have made it bearable," Ginny said. "I can't believe my Team Ginny. I feel so much love when I see the shirts and pictures and hear the comments and stories. The staff and students at the school have sent cards and visited and raised 'Pennies for Ginny' and they have been so patient with my situation. I know I'm where I need to be to fight this battle. The staff here are so genuinely caring and they are making my stay here comfortable so I can come back home to our awesome community that I care about and love. Thank you all so much."

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