Cancer-stricken woman has sights set on airline job despite failing health

Michelle Lordan and her family are coming to terms with the huge bill they face for a bone-marrow transplant in the US but the positive 27-year-old still dreams of flying high with Emirates.

Chemotherapy is becoming ineffective for Michelle Lordan, left, with her mother. She needs to have a bone-marrow transplant operation in the US, which is not available in the UAE. Satish Kumar / The National
Powered by automated translation

DUBAI // Cancer patient Michelle Lordan is refusing to give up on conquering her fear of heights and becoming a flight stewardess even as the clock ticks down on her appeal for an urgent bone-marrow transplant.

The 27-year-old Filipina, a tourism graduate who lives with her aunt and mother in Silicon Oasis, Dubai, has endured three years of chemotherapy, spending 12 months at Dubai Hospital.

After an appeal this year, anony­mous benefactors covered the cost of her treatment, but the family was shocked to find that a bone-marrow transplant from her 24-year-old sister, Mara Vanessa, would cost more than Dh400,000, because the surgery would have to be performed in the United States.

The MD Anderson cancer centre in Texas requires a large financial deposit before it will consider treating Ms Lordan.

There are, however, restrictions in the UAE on raising money for charitable causes.

Charities that collect donations for zakat funds can spend the money only in the UAE, where the bone-marrow transplant that Ms Lordan needs is unavailable.

Ms Lordan had acute myeloid leukaemia diagnosed, a type of blood cancer, in April 2014 after she suffered rapid weight loss, fever, exhaustion and unexplained bruising.

Doctors said the chemotherapy treatment to keep her in remission would soon become ineffective, so Ms Lordan needs a transplant very soon.

“As soon as doctors said I needed a transplant, I knew it would be very difficult for me,” said Ms Lordan, who worked for a travel operator in Karama before her illness.

“My mum is a single parent and I don’t have a job. There is no one to support us financially. Time is running out.”

She has been offered financial support from the Friends of Cancer Patients in Sharjah but it is less than 10 per cent of the surgery and travel costs.

Other medical options in China, Mexico and India are also costly but not as reliable.

Ms Lordan spent eight months in hospital in 2014 and four months this year.

Dr Amna Al Mehairi, a haematology specialist at Dubai Hospital, said the sooner Ms Lordan received a transplant, the greater her chance of recovery.

“Unfortunately, Michelle had a relapse of her cancer, so this means that the chemotherapy she has had is not being effective,” she said.

“For it to return in Michelle is unexpected. Most do well after chemotherapy and live a normal life.

“The transplant procedure is complex but the hospital they have looked at is very good.”

As one of five children, Ms Lordan had a greater chance of finding a bone-marrow match because family members are more likely to be suitable donors.

Her mother, Jo, a widow, took leave from her real estate job in January to care for her daughter.

“Michelle is my eldest daughter, I don’t want to lose her,” she said. “Her dreams for life have changed a lot. Now her focus is to be strong. She is fighting and has a positive attitude.

“She wants to marry and have a family one day. We are not sure if that will come true.”

The family has appealed to other charities in the UAE for help.

“I’ve had big comfort from my mum being so close,” Ms Lordan said. “My family in the Philippines have been supporting me during Skype calls, making me laugh. It has been a big help and kept me positive.

“I’m determined to get healthy and become a flight attendant. I’m afraid of heights but if I can beat this, I can beat anything.”

nwebster@thenational.ae