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VIDEO: Rojea needs help!

17-year-old JC student battling Hodgkin's lymphoma

BY ROMARDO LYONS
Observer staff reporter
lyonsr@jamaicaobserver.com

Thursday, May 06, 2021

After a two-year battle with Hodgkin's lymphoma, 17-year-old Rojea McCook learnt in April that the cancer had returned more aggressively, spreading from his neck to his stomach.

Now his mother, Nadine Morris, who had remained optimistic and steadfast in faith throughout his rigorous treatment, feels that her family has been abandoned by hope at a time when they had started to smile again.

Rojea's doctors advised that immediate chemotherapy and a bone marrow transplant are needed to save his life. But when Morris learnt that treatment expenses exceeded $10 million, a feeling of defeat overcame her.

“When I heard what's the cost to do a bone marrow transplant, it makes it seem like a death sentence now. Because there's no way I can afford it. We heard from one hospital overseas that it's US$71,000, and that is without any complications developing during the treatment. That's just getting the treatment done. It didn't include air fare, lodging, or anything of that sort,” Morris, an administrative assistant, told the Jamaica Observer on Tuesday.

“We thought everything was finally going back to normal. That information was just shared with me in a matter of weeks. His oncologist advised us that there is no further treatment locally that can be administered to him, because he had completed all his cycles of chemotherapy in order to get rid of the cancer,” she said.

For Rojea, a grade 10 student at Jamaica College, the ultimate goal is to survive and be able to one day sit in a classroom with his friends again.

Rojea, who wants to study medicine, was diagnosed with stage four Hodgkin's lymphoma in early 2019 and underwent treatment for two years. That included multiple chemotherapy, radiation and surgery.

In March 2020, he was released from University Hospital of the West Indies and was treated at home until July. Coming out on the better side of treatment and having all subsequent tests pointing to a full recovery, an eager Rojea continued his educational journey, diving into virtual instructions per COVID-19 restrictions.

A positron emission tomography (PET) scan to confirm remission was delayed for months due to the pandemic, and when it was finally completed, Rojea's life was once again uprooted.

But even with hope seeming to fade, the light-spirited youngster poked fun at his mother yesterday.

“I think she's more afraid than I am,” he told the Observer with a smirk.

Morris responded: “The first diagnosis, I didn't have much worry. I was comforted by the fact that Hodgkin's lymphoma has a high success [rate] in terms of treatment. So, even at stage four it can be successfully treated. And that was the same for Rojea. We have to keep positive, and he was well treated by the nurses and doctors,” she said.

“His 2019/2020 school year was disrupted because he started treatment in August 2019 and went straight until July 2020. He didn't get to do any form of schooling,” she added.

Rojea then recalled his return to school in September 2020, experiencing for the first time a new way of learning.

“I didn't go back to school physically. It was virtual. It wasn't really hard. I learn how to adapt very quickly... So, going back to school, I just knew that I had to get through. I ended up repeating fourth form. That wasn't a problem. Having such good friends, a lot of my friends help me to understand anything that I never really understand. I am really grateful for them,” he said.

And after being out of school for two years, Rojea said the only thing he longs for is being clad in uniform with a bag on his back “going to school with my friends. But because of the current corona situation, I am unable to do that. But I can endure it.”

However, his absence from the classroom resulted in him giving his 12-year-old sister, Leigha, more assistance with assignments, even on his most debilitating and painful days.

“Even through everything, he is the one I sent his sister's assignments to same way. He helped her to do her work. At one point he started charging me $500 to do it,” Morris said, bursting into laughter as she scrolled through her cellphone looking at pictures of her son while he was in hospital.

On Tuesday, when the Observer visited Rojea at home, he was seen helping his sister, while juggling his classes.

“Do you understand it now,” he asked her, as they both huddled over a textbook and a tablet.

“Yes, I understand it,” she replied with a nod.

Morris has launched a gofundme account as she pleads with Jamaicans to assist her son in getting the urgent treatment he requires.

“I'm just seeking assistance from Jamaica in getting this done. We don't have a lot of time in which to get him the treatment, that's why I am really reaching out. Financially, the first treatment was very burdensome, I have to admit,” said Morris.

Rojea's aunt, Debbie McCook-Wilson, has also urged Jamaicans to make any donations if they can.

“Please consider contributing to this fund as it will literally save the life of someone who is determined, and who wants to be an asset to his country. The family wishes to thank those who have provided support and prayers. The battle is lengthy, and we hope you will join those who love him to open the door to a beautiful, meaningful future,” McCook-Wilson said.

Anyone wishing to help can make a donation at: https://www.gofundme.com/f/help-us-win-this-battle-against-cancer-with-rojea?utm_campaign=p_cp+share-sheet&utm_medium=chat&utm_source=whatsApp