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Oke’s battle against cancer enters next phase

Although the latest Washington state legislative session wrapped up yesterday, Sen. Bob Oke (R-Port Orchard) said he has no plans to relax in his garden or head out pheasant hunting soon.

Instead, the four-time incumbent said he will begin a “three-month adventure” that he hopes will substantially improve and prolong his life.

On Tuesday, Oke will check into the Veterans Administration Hospital in Seattle to begin a grueling treatment for multiple myeloma, the rare blood cancer he was diagnosed with last June.

Although the cancer, which affects the body’s plasma cells and weakens the bones, was in remission last fall, Oke said it returned in January, just as he was set to return to Olympia. Determined to finish the session, Oke said he continued chemotherapy and hoped for the best, gaining back enough strength eventually to get around the capitol without the wheelchair he began the session with.

Oke, 65, admitted he made a point of “not asking too many questions” about the complicated stem-cell transplant he was almost too old to receive, but he explained the basics of the three-phase process.

First, the doctors will stimulate the growth of new, healthy stem cells in his body, which they will then remove and freeze for later. Next, the doctors will kill the remaining — and hopefully all the bad — stem cells.

Finally, they will complete the process by returning the good cells they collected earlier to his body.

“It doesn’t sound like a lot of fun, but this is an opportunity for me to become much healthier, and to enjoy life to its fullest for a few more years,” he said, speaking from the Senate floor on Wednesday, where he said it was “hard to be cheerful,” during the stressful last days of the session, but that he was feeling healthier than he had in a long time.

Who wasn’t felling well, however, was his wife, Judy, whom he said had come down with the flu-like bug he was just recovering from, sidelining his near-constant companion in both personal and professional pursuits.

“She’s not a good sick person,” he said. “And I need my caretaker.”

Despite the heavy load of health problems, Oke said he was determined to remain positive, taking solace in the success of a fellow cancer patient who had a stem-cell transplant herself recently.

Earlier this week, Oke said he spoke with Laurie Dolan, the governor’s health-care adviser, who is also 65 and came down with multiple myeloma, but is now in remission thanks to her treatment.

“When she found out, she had already lost most of her left knee, so she was in a lot worse shape. But she made it through,” he said, explaining that he takes comfort in her story, along with his strong faith in God and the kind words from his family, friends, and even strangers.

Oke recalled, “I got a message on my answering machine this week that said, ‘You don’t know me, but I just know you’re going to make it, and I just felt like calling you and telling you that.”

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