A Long, Hard Victory over Illness

Gregory Vellner

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Victory over cancer left her as exuberant as a fireworks display.Unsplash

HENDERSON, NV – Before the COVID-19 pandemic normalized certain behaviors, Lori Roques was doing it to save her life.

“It seemed so foreign then, but now with the pandemic you see it everywhere,” she said. “My mother and husband would wear a mask then and it seemed so funny.”

Roques was talking about tactics like avoiding crowds when outdoors, wearing a mask, going solo in a quarantine and getting vaccinated – measures undertaken by the 63-year-old Southern California naïve following her diagnosis in 2002 with myelofibrosis (MF), a rare disorder in which abnormal blood cells and fibers build up in the bone marrow.

“Those things were what the medical professionals said I should do,” recalled Roques, a 32-year resident of this mid-sized city in the Las Vegas Valley about a 15-minute drive from Las Vegas, a town that might be impressed with Roque’s Royal Flush-like draw over MF. “High-dose chemo treatment wiped out all my immunizations so I had to start out all over again getting the MMR, polio and all the others, and all these boosters also in 2019. Who knew what was to come? I wouldn’t have been able to get them if there was the pandemic.”

Added Roques: “I was positive, and I always tell people to stay positive and have a good support system around them.”

Roques was 43-years-old and working as a real estate agent for new-home sales when it began.

“It was the end of ’01 and I wasn’t feeling too good,” she remembered. “I went to the doctor and he said my white blood counts were a little high, and so I went next to a hematologist. It took a little while to find I had myelofibrosis. My white counts were high and red counts low, so I started to have blood transfusions every two to three weeks.”

The treatment at UCLA Hospital then shifted to the Mayo Clinic in Scottsdale, Arizona. “They were fantastic and then recommended I go to Seattle Cancer Care/Fred Hutchinson for the stem cell transplant.”

The MF was very aggressive and Roques was in agony.

“I had a lot of bone pain and used a wheelchair for a time because I was so weak. Red cells need oxygen and without oxygen it was a marathon for me just to walk across the street. I was 45 by then and it was a lot to take in.”

But taking it in with her was a support team – her husband, Robin, and children, Tiffany and Jason – that provided courage and the will to fight on waiting for a bone marrow match. The wait seemed endless, but finally …

“A match came through the national registry,” she remembered. “It was an unrelated donor, a guy and he wanted to stay anonymous. And that person saved my life. I wouldn’t be here without that person because I was really deteriorating;”

Because the giver wanted to remain unidentified, Roques could only send him a notecard. “My husband said that he just wanted to be unselfish. So in my note, I wrote thank you, thank you, thank you so many times. I was just so happy to be alive.”

In the years since, Roques has “given back” by volunteering with The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society – from the Patti Robinson Kaufman First Connection Program to the Light the Night annual walk.

“My dad always would say, ‘if you give up, it’s over.’ So don’t give up.”

NEXT: Three TKOs over cancer.

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As a professional journalist for several years -- reporter, editor, feature writer, columnist -- I handled a range of subjects. Breaking news, investigative series, government action, feature events, and staff feature writer with national entertainment magazine interviewing stars including Tom Selleck, Mel Brooks and Danny DeVito. No matter the topic, certain ingredients are key: truth, facts, objectivity, balance.

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