Philadelphia, PA

Survivability -- Times Three

Gregory Vellner

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They beat the odds -- and defeated illness.Terry Vlisidis

COVINGTON, GA - “Success is falling nine times and getting up ten,” said Jon Bon Jovi. And on my way to talk with Lori Roques about getting back up after falling in her battle with myelofibrosis, I learned of three others who’ve been knocked down but got back up. Their survival stories are remarkable.

“I was in the midst of planning my grandmother’s surprise birthday party and didn’t want to tell anyone until I knew for sure something was wrong,” recalls Towanna, who resides in this town about 35 miles east of Atlanta. “When we were about to return home after the party, my grandmother could see something was wrong. I remember breaking down crying, but I was so relieved to be able to tell someone what I was going through. She didn’t shed but one tear. Instead, she prayed for me and spoke words of encouragement to get me through this possible life-changing ordeal.””

The ordeal was the late-night discovery of a lump near an armpit that tests eventually would conclude to be cancer. And over the coming months, Towanna underwent arduous chemo and radiation treatments. Fortunately, a final CT scan determined she was in remission.

“They said I could have no more children,” said the mother of two. “But a couple of years later I got pregnant. I had my miracle baby who is now 15.”

Erica, a lymphoma survivor from Apollo Beach, FL, gets right to it: “By the time I was 32 years old, I was a three-time cancer survivor.”

The challenging journey began with a MALT lymphoma diagnosis at age 22 that required surgery with doctors telling her, “If the cancer comes back, you could die within two months.” She fought it, but more than four years later suffered a relapse with more surgery and radiation treatments. And then, more than six years later with a newly adopted baby in her arms, Erica’s cancer returned again. Recovery was difficult and included inflammation in her heart and lungs, as well as blood disorders.

Erica never gave up, and today plays Pickleball as a 5.0 player, coaches and “dabbles,” she says, in some Pro events.

Another battle – this one against leukemia -- successfully was fought by Edmund Montefusco, of Las Vegas, NV.

For six years Montefusco served with the U.S. Army in military intelligence, including a period of time in the early 1970s in Korea when he was exposed to Agent Orange. Decades later, his enemy appeared as a rare, slow-growing hairy cell leukemia. He was 65 when a biopsy determined the diagnosis.

A retired adjunct college instructor, he has over the past several years performed volunteer work with The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society (LLS). He combats fatigue today, “but I can do my LLS work from my armchair with a coffee.”

NEXT: Advice and suggestions from the three survivors.

(Follow me for more articles like this one, and to see the next part of this survival story.)

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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.

Bucks County, PA
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