When things get tough, it’s good to have friends who have your back. For Romez Tahririha, his friends are fighting hard for him and it might make all the difference in his life.
The 28-year-old heavy-duty mechanic is in his second cancer fight in the last 18 months. It’s a serious diagnosis that requires serious treatments, which means it’s also seriously expensive.
“He’s a wonderful guy. He’s always been a team player. If you needed something, he’s the kind of guy that would help you out to the ends of the Earth. He’s just got that kind of personality,” said Jesse Wagner. “I felt that, after so many nice things that he’s done for people, he needed something in return. This is the time for people to pull together for him.”
Tahririha’s fight started in December 2016 when he started experiencing chest pains that progressively got more severe. A CAT scan showed a mass behind his breastbone caused by T-Cell Lymphoblastic Lymphoma, a rare and aggressive form of non-Hodgkin lymphoma. To make matters worse, bleeding in front of his retinas caused temporary blindness, which surgery was able to fully restore in only one eye. By the fall of 2017, he was declared cancer-free.
The chest pain returned this February, unfortunately, and tests determined that he had developed T-Cell Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia (AKA T-ALL). It, too, is aggressive.
Thankfully, he has some aggressive friends who are fighting back. Lana Frank started a crowdfunding campaign (found at www.gf.me/u/jbvhfb) that has collected almost 10 per cent of its $40,000 goal to help Tahririha and his fiancée, Jennifer van Brabant, while he is out of work during his treatment.
She said that he’s doing well and his experimental treatment Nelarabine has been helping him to feel better, and even stay at home.
“They actually expected him to have to stay there for another week on top of it just because it’s a very harsh chemo. He recovered really fast and he was able to come out a week early. Take what you get, right? Celebrate what you can,” she said.
Nelarabine was specifically developed for adult T-ALL but can only be used if the person has already failed two different types of chemo protocols, which Romez has. He started this drug just a few weeks ago and he no longer experiences chest pain.
If it’s successful and he goes into remission then he can receive stem cell treatment, which can’t be done in Edmonton, only in Calgary. That requires the couple to stay there for a period of four months, enduring all of those extra living expenses while still covering all of their regular expenses here in St. Albert while they’re out of work.
“He worries all the time about everything that he can’t contribute to right now. Of course, we need to be able for the treatment and live in Calgary. We weren’t fortunate enough to have insurance. We’re just getting by with what we have. Any help would just be great,” van Brabant said.
The stem cell treatment isn’t considered a cure, but a major booster to his own body’s physiology. Once that’s done, however, he hopes to go to another facility perhaps in Mexico or the United States that has further experimental treatments that he can access. They anticipate the expenses to run up to $40,000.
“The battle has not even really begun,” Wagner said.
To help out as much as he can, Wagner is hosting the Rally for Romez this weekend. People are invited to come down to Jack’s Burger Shack at 15 Perron St. to get a burger and a drink for $10 with all proceeds going to Romez. All the food and beverages are being donated in order to make the event as successful as possible. There will be live music and face painting for donations as well, plus Van Brabant and the company she works for have donated some LED USB desk bar lights to sell for $5. The Rally runs from noon to 4 p.m. on Sunday, July 22.
“I just felt that this one time if there was something that I could do for somebody, this is the time. I figured I would just do whatever I could with what I had,” Wagner said, adding that Tahririha hopes that he will be strong enough to pay a visit to the event to thank everyone personally.
“Even talking to him on the phone, you can tell he’s just exhausted. He’s got no breath left. It’s been tough.”
Wagner has also set up a collection box at the Grapevine Deli right across the street.
While all of these events are going on, van Brabant, Wagner and the Tahririha family are also encouraging people to register for the OneMatch program to become a stem cell donor. They hope to have a station at the Rally event where people can start the registration process to be a donor.
You must be between the ages of 17 and 35. Right now, there is a greater need for males and ethnically diverse individuals. While there are no events that have yet been organized for St. Albert, there is a Self Swab Clinic to register people for the OneMatch program that will be held between 8 a.m. and 4 p.m. on Monday, July 23, at Canadian Blood Services at 8219 114 St. near the University of Alberta Hospital in Edmonton.
Those people who are unable to make it to the clinic site can contact the organization through its website at www.OneMatch.ca and have a free kit mailed to their homes.
“It’s fairly easy. It’s just a swab in the cheek and then you send it away. Even if you don’t match Romez, you can match somebody else that you may be able to help. It’s just a good cause – period,” Wagner said.
“I know that the community can pull together. I know what the community can do in 24 hours.”