The internet, for all of its educational nooks and crannies, can still tend to resemble more of a dumpster fire than a digital Encyclopedia Britannica. In these days of COVID-19, everyone seems to be either an epidemiologist, a scientist, a conspiracy theorist or worse, a sheep led by all three.
The good news is that in the midst of the muck, there is light — and in this town, that light is a live stream benefit show this Saturday in honor of Jessa Roquet. You may know her as the stunning voice behind Gambler’s Daughter.
On March 1, Roquet found herself with abdominal pain. When her pain worsened the following day, she went to the hospital, nervous it could be appendicitis. Once the standard scans and various tests were run, Roquet says she felt a bit silly, thinking doctors would probably tell her it was indigestion. Up until that moment, Roquet was a perfectly healthy adult. But tests revealed she had two masses in her liver along with abnormal lymph nodes.
A couple weeks and even more tests later, the world would plunge into a global pandemic. Right around that time, Roquet was diagnosed with stage-four intrahepatic cholangiocarcinoma, a rare liver bile duct cancer.
“The reality is there is a lot of fear, and fear is real and valid and grief is a big part of it," she says. "I have learned I need to honor and sit with it instead of distracting from it."
Prior to her terminal diagnosis, Roquet was poised to begin a new phase of life. A recently divorced single mom, she was coming off the successful release of her album Serotinous Skin in February. Shows and studio appearances were scheduled to promote the new album, and she was fitting the pieces together to be a full-time musician.
With her upcoming shows and appearances canceled, Roquet’s full-time job quickly changed from musician to Chief Cancer Treatment Strategist and Manager of Distance Learning for her three children. Two days prior to starting chemotherapy, new test results changed her treatment course to immunotherapy. She pivoted, pressing all her remaining energy into this new healing. She dove deep into cancer treatment research, exploring every available option, standard, modern, Eastern, Western, homeopathic, chiropractic — whatever would boost her immune system and go head-to-head with the disease.
When the local music community learned of Roquet’s devastating news, its members wasted no time organizing an event to raise funds for her medical treatment. Plans had already been in the works for an all-women Mother’s Day show and Jen Bluhm of Waltzing on Waves connected with the show planners via Facebook group thread to suggest turning the show into a benefit for Roquet. Immediately, the women involved — Andriana Lehr, Sarah Morris, Annie Mack and Priscilla Priebe — were on board.
Minnesota musicians are known for being mutally supportive, and Roquet is a prime example of that ethos. In addition to playing in her own band, she also actively promotes and attends others’ shows. At a house show for Julia Bloom’s band at the time, Foragers, Roquet was the one to approach the host to ask if a tip jar could be put out for them, providing much needed support. She has also volunteered with the Minnesota Music Coalition, an organization that helps support local artists. Over and over, Roquet's friends have expressed how kind, genuine, and considerate of a soul she is. For Andriana Lehr and the other event organizers, it took longer to wash their hands than it did to get over 20 acts to agree to play the benefit. The most challenging part was determining which platform to broadcast the livestream on.
In the end, Facebook Live prevailed. The event will stream live from the Facebook group Going Live With Love: Songs for Support of Jessa Roquet. A veritable parade of 28 local stars — including Sarah Morris, Annie Mack, Adam Levy, Jillian Rae, and Vicky Emerson, to name a few — make up the event’s lineup. Each will play a 15-minute set beginning at 11 a.m. on Saturday. Folks can support Roquet via her Gofundme page or directly via Venmo (@Jessa-Roquet).
Since her cancer diagnosis, Roquet has remained unwavering in her persistence to keep a positive attitude. She has not been afraid to ask for help — a major hurdle for many Minnesotans to overcome. Because of the stay-at-home order and being in the high-risk health category, getting help is a challenge. Yet, Roquet says she's encouraged by the amount of help that has come her way. Prayer and meditation have also helped Roquet stay focused on the positive. She even managed to find a silver lining in quarantine: more time with her kids, a blessing she says she doesn’t take for granted. Given a prognosis of six to nine months to live, those moments are precious. Overall, her biggest issues physically have been pain management and fatigue, but even with that, she reports she mostly feels fine.
"I think honoring emotions and turning to hope and gratitude, honoring the hard things and moving towards hope and joy and love [is important]," she says. "It’s tough feeling like you have something trying to take your life away. What do I have to focus on and be thankful for? [It’s been] a huge lesson in being happy and satisfied."