Peg Cibotti shares story of granddaughter’s inspirational recovery

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Peg Cibotti is not one for “Grandma’s Brag Books,” but the 77-year-old Canton resident can’t help but beam with pride when it comes to telling the triumphant tale of her 26-year-old granddaughter Kimberly Koetter, a story Cibotti said is “begging to be told.”

Peg Cibotti and Kimberly Koetter

Peg Cibotti with her granddaughter Kimberly Koetter

Koetter, who lives in Rochester, New York, was diagnosed with leukemia at the age of 22, prior to beginning her senior year at Binghamton University. Following the diagnosis, she soon started a 25-month chemotherapy regimen, with occasional treatments of brain radiation.

“Hospitals are full of sick kids, and yet you don’t think it’s going to happen to one of yours,” Cibotti said. “But it can happen.”

As a result of her treatments, Koetter lost her hair and her face “blew up,” as her grandmother puts it. But on the path to recovery, Koetter finished her undergraduate degree at the College at Brockport, a school closer to her Rochester home, and in May of 2009, she graduated from a year-long nursing program at the University of Rochester.

Healthy once again, she now works in the same oncology unit of the same hospital (Strong Memorial Hospital in Rochester) where she was a cancer patient not too long ago. Koetter’s journey, as her grandmother points out, has literally come “full circle.”

“It makes her feel good that she can ease other people’s pain somewhat,” Cibotti said. “She’s kind of a quiet girl, but puts herself in a position where she can help other young people that are going through what she went through.”

While Koetter had a “hopeful” prognosis from the start, Cibotti said her granddaughter’s positive attitude — “she had that chin up” — helped grandmother and granddaughter alike cope with this difficult situation.

In 1991 Cibotti was diagnosed with aplastic anemia, a serious blood disorder that “occurs when your body stops producing enough new blood cells” and “leaves you feeling fatigued and at higher risk of infections and uncontrolled bleeding,” according to the Mayo Clinic’s website. It took Cibotti three years to recover.

“It’s terrifying to face your own mortality,” Cibotti said.

But Koetter, fighting for her own life almost two decades later, told her grandmother that she viewed each day of treatment as another day closer to her own recovery. “She was slammed with the news and she took it like that. I was very surprised by that at her age,” Cibotti said.

Cibotti, who is the recording secretary for the Canton Council on Aging, shared her granddaughter’s story last Saturday. Sitting in the kitchen of her Canton home, she placed a picture of Koetter on the island countertop, marveling at her good looks (Koetter has a unique combination of Irish, Italian, German, and Japanese descent) and marveling at her resiliency.

“I put my [bout with aplastic anemia] behind me and don’t even generally talk about it. I’m so glad to be over it,” Cibotti said. “She’s gone beyond that though, because I just moved on from it. She’s gone to another degree — she’s zealous about helping others.”

Koetter has come a long way since she was first diagnosed at the age of 22. Having originally graduated with a degree in political science, Cibotti said it was her granddaughter’s experience battling cancer and her desire to improve support services for cancer patients in the young adult age bracket that spurred a career change.

“I find her very inspiring,” Cibotti said. “This is a good thing that she has done with her life. I think that when you have an experience like that it can embitter you; she can be moaning around like, ‘Why did this happen to me? This isn’t fair.’ She could be saying that — maybe she thought that, maybe she had some days where she said that — I don’t know, but for the most part, it’s changed the course of her life so radically.

“She’s shown such maturity and strength of character,” Cibotti continued. “She’s beautiful inside and out.”

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avatar Posted by on Aug 12 2010. Filed under Features.
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