Shiner graduate, UHV golfer fights rare form of cancer

Dec. 2, 2012 at 6:02 a.m.
Updated Dec. 3, 2012 at 6:03 a.m.

Matt Pohler is a golfer for Shiner and UHV before he came down with acute lympoblastic leukemia.

Matt Pohler is a golfer for Shiner and UHV before he came down with acute lympoblastic leukemia.

The hogs are safe - for now.

Matt Pohler is someone who is determined to succeed in everything he does.

The Shiner native was a member of the National Honor Society for three years in high school. Despite being a collegiate golfer at the University of Houston-Victoria it was a near certainty the 19-year old could be found attending Mass at Sts. Cyril & Methodius Catholic Church most Sunday mornings.

He's also an avid hog hunter who never needs an excuse to challenge a wild boar.

Pohler's newest challenge is bigger than golf, his studies or wrestling hogs. Pohler's newest challenge is cancer.

On Nov. 13, two days after he celebrated his 19th birthday with is extended family, Matthew Pohler was diagnosed with Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia. He is expected to be released Sunday, if his potassium and phosphorus levels are acceptable.

Birthday Bummer

The news came as a shock to Pohler, his parents, Donald and Gerrie, extended family and the entire Shiner community.

"We just never thought this would occur," Donald said. "But, it shows you who is in control. God is in control. We are not. Anything can happen and your life can change in just a few seconds."

Pohler has spent the last two weeks at MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, surrounded by a constant stream of family and close friends. Those who cannot make the trip can visit the website

"It's hard to believe when you see him, even everyone in ICU says 'He doesn't look sick,'" Gerrie said. "I say 'Yeah, tell me about it.' You have the nurses and the doctors saying what a pleasant young man he is. .I don't know why this is happening, but you have to go with whatever you have to do."

In the days leading up to the diagnosis, Pohler was having a hard time keeping food down. No one thought it was too big of a deal.

Meagan Chumchal remembers hanging out with her friend on Nov. 10 and seeing him again at Mass on his birthday. Chumchal, a longtime friend of Pohler's, suspected something was wrong when Pohler kept vomiting, but he assured her that all was well.

"He has the best attitude," said Chumchal. "He has the most positive attitude. The first weekend I went up there I was inspired by how his parents and family have come together."

A new form of competition

Pohler hails from an athletic family. Donald and Gerrie are from Moulton, so their boys all grew up playing basketball. However, golf is the unofficial family sport because Matt, his cousins, uncles and so many others are golfers.

Fittingly, the first of a handful of fundraisers for Pohler will be Dec. 8 golf tournament in Gonzales. The Friends of Matt Pohler Benefit Golf Tournament was organized by his cousin Craig and others to defray the cost of cancer treatment.

Denise Sandelovic is among the tournament organizers. Her son, Ky, played baseball for years with Pohler. After finding out her son's good friend - who "is just a super sweet kid with a big heart"-had leukemia Sandelovic wanted to help.

"It's something that's near and dear to his heart," Sandelovic said. "We felt it would be a good way to get fellow golfers together. He comes from a long line of golfers. .We thought we'd get all our friends together on the golf course and raise some money for Matt's cause."

In some ways the tournament is karma being repaid. Throughout his high school days Pohler participated in Relay for Life. Now, others are raising money and awareness to help with his fight with cancer.

Over the past three weeks, Pohler's family and friends say his outlook hasn't wavered. The same determination Pohler took when attacking the golf course, or in other sports growing up, has shuffled to his recovery.

"Whether it's hog hunting or any of those sports, Matt has a determined outlook on life," said close friend Caleb Kalich, who helped Shiner's football team win Friday night, but visited Pohler on Saturday. "If we are playing ping pong in my garage, Matt is determined to win. That's the way he's looking at this right now."

Life of the Party

The humor and Pohlerisms that dot interaction with Matt are still there. Anyone who spends much time with Pohler will know he drops the word "solid" into any conversation in any context.

"Sometimes I think he butchers words," Gerrie said with a laugh. "He takes two words and smashes them together. He has already had some nurses in ICU saying 'solid.' Anyway, they are coming out and asking him 'Are you feeling solid today?' . He's brightened up a lot of people who have come to see him. It's his way of relating."

Matt is the youngest of Gerrie and Donald's six children.

Being the baby of the family toughened him up on the basketball court. It also meant anytime there was a family get-together, it turned into quite the party.

Tristian, Wesley, Joshua and Nicholas Pohler all joined their brother for his 19th birthday. Older sister Melanie Nevlud and her husband, Doug, were also there. Despite the occasion Matt wasn't feeling well.

Dealing with the diagnosis

He vomited after Mass. Throughout the day his nausea would return.

That Monday, Pohler attended class and returned to Shiner that afternoon. He once again complained of an upset stomach. His mother figured something had to be wrong.

The next morning, Gerrie told her youngest child they were going to figure out the cause of his nausea whether he liked it or not.

"I have six kids. I've done this a million times and I've never had any fever, any pain or anything. I just told him to get in the car and we're going somewhere. He said 'Where are we going?' I said "the clinic, or the hospital, we don't know.'"

They first went to Yoakum. A nurse there felt something in Matt's abdomen that was suspicious so a blood test was ordered.

Pohler's white blood cell count was more than 480,000. It had to have been a mistake.

Initially, Gerrie thought a comma was misplaced.

She knew it wasn't a good sign to have a white blood cell count so high because her father, Leonard Darilek, was also diagnosed with leukemia when Matt was in elementary school.

Gerrie asked for another test. That second test proved the first was not a fluke.

Previous experience still didn't prepare the matriarch for Matt's diagnosis. Darilek's disease was found after he sustained a heart attack. Her son was a college student who had a partial golf scholarship.

"It's not good for anyone," Gerrie said. "I don't wish it on my worst enemy, I really don't. My dad, he was older and it didn't knock him out of the blue. It didn't take a perfectly healthy looking person and knock him over."

Matt's grandfather had chronic lymphocytic leukemia, which usually attacks the body slower than the acute lymphoblastic leukemia he is fighting.

According to the National Cancer Institute, ALL is an aggressive form of leukemia where too many immature white blood cells are found in the blood and bone marrow.

An estimated 5,000 people are diagnosed with this form of leukemia annually; however, most are children under 10.

Doctors told the Pohlers a big reason why their youngest child was having a hard time keeping food down was because his kidneys were so swollen, other bodily functions went awry.

"When I found out about it, first I prayed it wasn't leukemia, but something else," Donald recalled. "When I found out how serious it was, I prayed that God wouldn't take him from us. He has answered that for sure."

Since being flown to Houston in critical condition on Nov. 13 things have improved for Pohler.

He's still in the hospital, but his parents are optimistic he will be released in the coming days.

Victory day-by-day

Rather than return to Shiner, Donald said his son will live with relatives in Pearland so they are nearby officials at MD Anderson.

The personable 19-year-old isn't out of the woods yet. His parents said Pohler will begin weekly chemotherapy treatments on Dec. 18.

When Pohler qualified for the Class 1A golf tournament in May, no one could have foreshadowed father and son eating hospital turkey on Thanksgiving.

Originally, the plan was to spend the holiday with Matt's sister and her husband.

The extended family has taken turns visiting Pohler in the hospital, lifting his spirits and listening to his unique syntax.

"If anything, he's looking forward to getting back (and doing) it's hog hunting with his brothers," Donald said. "He may be able to do that a year from now. .That would mean he's returning to what he loves. That would be so special and so gratifying for me to see him do that again. That would be just wonderful."

A return to normalcy would be perfect for Pohler. The hogs probably wouldn't agree.



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