KCC bone marrow drive supports nursing graduate, others seeking donors

PUHI — Cheyanne Mahuka said she was shocked to find out her friend, Rochelle Pimental, had been diagnosed with cancer.

“We felt bad,” Mahuka said. “We had just graduated with nursing degrees. But we just gotta get through this. We’re doing this bone marrow drive in honor of Rochelle, but this registry can save anyone’s life.”

Pimental, who graduated in May, has been diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia, the same disease that afflicted BJ Gaitos, a Kauai Community College apprenticeship program student.

“He’s going through the first round of chemo,” said Mariah Navor, Gaitos’ cousin who was helping recruit donors at the Kauai Community College student center. “He was diagnosed after Rochelle. He’s now going through the side effects of the chemo. He’s got two kids — a 2-year-old and a 5-year-old. But he just keeps going. Right now, he’s waiting for his sister’s results of the bone marrow testing. If that comes out negative, maybe his match will be in Ron Yonashiro’s suitcase.”

Yonashiro, of Honolulu, was helping volunteers of the Kauai Community nursing club who organized the drive. He said a bone marrow transplant is one of the last resorts to treating these types of cancer, and is usually resorted to when the patient doesn’t respond well to other programs.

“We don’t need to do it, but we wanted to do it — not just because we know Rochelle, but because it can help so many other people,” said Sigrid Galano, a Kauai Community College nursing student.

Pimental said her latest bone marrow biopsy results put her in the category of needing a bone marrow transplant.

“It was good news and bad news,” she said. “They found no leukemia cells on the latest test. But there was evidence of some mutation.”

Pimental was diagnosed shortly after graduating the Kauai Community College nursing program.

“She went from real high to real low,” said Shar Ono of the KCC nursing program. “She graduated, she had a job and then was diagnosed with cancer.”

Pimental, a wife and mother of three children, said she was just promoted in her job a week before being diagnosed.

“We just gotta truck on,” she said. “I went through the first round of chemo therapy, spending six weeks at Straub Hospital. The hardest part is the chemo program tears down your immune system and you need to isolate yourself. If your child gets sick, you can’t even go near them.”

She is in her second round of chemo therapy.

“I still need to go to Honolulu for therapy because they don’t do it here on Kauai,” she said. “But it’s hard because you need to go through it every 28 days — just about the time you start feeling good, you gotta go through it for another two weeks.”

The hardest part of her recovery is the bone marrow biopsy.

“I’ve had three, already,” Pimental said. “They drill through your bone in the hip. I just can never get used to it.”

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