From OHC, Specialists in the Treatment of Adult Cancers and Blood Disorders

April 9, 2021

Marilee Klosterman never thought in 2021 she’d be present to be the featured artist in a gallery showing. In spring of 2017, she was content with the picture-perfect life she painted for herself. She was enjoying retirement with her husband on 36 acres of rural property in Guilford, IN. Her six children and three grandchildren were relatively close residing in Columbus and Cincinnati. She was building an art studio on her property.

“One day, I went painting with a friend,” said Marilee. “I noticed some big bruises on my arm and decided to go to the doctor.” Marilee’s bloodwork revealed an extremely low platelet count and her physician sent her to the emergency room. She was eventually referred to OHC’s James H. Essell, MD, a national expert in blood and marrow stem cell transplants. He diagnosed Marilee with chronic myelomonocytic leukemia, an uncommon blood cancer.

“It was hard to wrap my head around the diagnosis,” said Marilee. “At several of my appointments at OHC, I kept asking them to repeat what was wrong with me. Dr. Essell told me that if I wanted to live to see my grandchildren grow up, I needed to have a bone marrow transplant,” added Marilee.

After treatment with blood products and chemotherapy, OHC found Marilee a bone marrow donor match. In October, she had the transplant.

During the critical 100-day post-transplant recovery period, Marilee lived with her son to be closer to the hospital. “Outside of my daily doctor’s appointments, I was quarantined because of my weakened immune system,” said Marilee. “I wasn’t feeling great and suffered with memory issues, but I thought it would be worth it to beat the cancer.”

Marilee Klosterman painting “One morning, Dr. Essell called me to tell me the devastating news,” said Marilee. “I had relapsed. Dr. Essell received my lab results and was in such disbelief that he actually went to the lab to see the slides himself.” Marilee’s donor engraftment, or acceptance of the transplanted bone marrow, had gone from 100% to about 40%. Dr. Essell admitted Marilee to the hospital for more chemotherapy and a second infusion of donor stem cells. Together, they were going to beat her cancer.

Marilee was in the hospital for 40 days prior to the second infusion in June 2018. “Fortunately, my original donor agreed to donate marrow again,” said Marilee. “I was apprehensive because of the relapse, but I had no other option.”

Following the second transfusion, Marilee was foggy and fatigued. She wondered if she’d ever cook again or socialize with her girlfriends. “I felt like I had no control,” said Marilee. “I prayed a lot, and it was Dr. Essell who encouraged me to get back to my normal life.” Marilee was hesitant with thoughts of the first transplant etched in her mind. Soon, she began to feel more focused. By September, Marilee, who describes herself as a sort of “Rip Van Winkle,” felt like she never had cancer. The second infusion was a success.

“Without prayer and the encouragement from my OHC team I wouldn’t have gotten through the struggle,” said Marilee. “OHC did everything for me. I was there every day for months and there were so many people I depended on. Dr. Essell’s confidence in my treatment gave me hope and strength.”

After a year-and-a-half, Marilee could finally use the art studio that she affectionately calls “her space.”

Marilee felt called to art as a child, but never had formal training. She only began painting about 10 years ago and credits Cincinnati artist Ray Hassard with teaching her how to paint with pastels, Marilee’s medium of choice. “I paint regularly with him,” Marilee said. “I learn so much just by listening to him speak.”

This month, Marilee is the Sharonville Cultural Arts Center’s featured artist. Her collection, The Art of Pastel, will be at the Westheimer Gallery April 2-24 with an opening reception on April 9. When asked how she feels about her inaugural show, Marilee said, “I’m excited! People coming to the gallery are actually coming to see my work.”

Marilee has monthly follow-up appointments with Dr. Essell and currently requires no treatment.

Reflecting on her journey, Marilee realizes, “What a gift this life is! Now, I’m a steward for this gift.” There is an air of lightness surrounding Marilee and she beams as she offers profound advice for anyone facing a challenge, “Know that today is enough. Set your mind on getting through today.”

For more information on The Art of Pastel exhibit and how to meet Marilee, visit:

OHC’s cancer experts are relentless in their pursuit for the most innovative and promising cancer treatments. For more information about our cancer research program, or to request a second opinion, visit or call 1-888-649-4800.

Marilee Klosterman family

Marilee Klosterman with her husband, son, and son’s family

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