Grief, near death experience galvanize Kanab native, Utah Tech graduate

ST. GEORGE — Lilliana Rogers lost her father to cancer when she was just 16. The loss was devastating, naturally, and one that has inspired the Utah Tech graduate to dedicate her life to helping others cope with loss.

Lilliana and her father Randy embrace, location and date not specified | Photo courtesy of Lilliana Rogers, St. George News

Rogers’ father, Randy Rogers, was diagnosed with myelodysplastic syndrome and leukemia while Lilliana was in high school.

“I really thought he would pull through,” Rogers said. “He thought he would, too.”

But a month after her 16th birthday, in September 2017, he died, sending Rogers spiraling. Always an excellent student, she started to tumble, describing herself as “just surviving.”

“I fell apart completely,” Rogers said. “My dad was kind of my best friend,”

Rogers realized she needed help with the grieving process, but found that in rural Kanab, where the family lived, resources were scarce — especially for kids. Her mother and siblings were grieving too, and she wished there were more resources available.

Her father, who was often poetic, said something during treatment one day that she can still recite perfectly to this day.

“You never really know how the sun shines, how the birds sing, and how the wind blows until you’re dying,” Randy Rogers said.

She threw herself into schoolwork to keep busy and attended Utah Tech as a first-generation college student when she hit another major roadblock.

It began with emergency surgery for a peptic ulcer, which left her hospitalized for about five days. Despite the initial treatment, the underlying cause of her health issues remained unclear.

“I actually almost lost my life,” Rogers said.

A few months later, she was diagnosed with Graves’ disease, a thyroid condition, and experienced severe complications. Ultimately, she had a total thyroidectomy and transplant.

Lilliana Rogers’ college graduation cap from Utah Tech, St. George, Utah, date not specified | Photo courtesy of Lilliana Rogers, St. George News

During all of this time, she was unable to attend school. But with the help of some mentors, she was able to come back to school with a vengeance, she said.

Valerie Housley, a General Education Advisor at Utah Tech, told her it would be best to take a semester off to recover.

“She wasn’t having any of that,” Housley said. “It wasn’t an easy semester, but she powered through it.”

Rogers felt like she finally had a support system and it paid dividends, saying they motivated her and made all the difference.

“I didn’t have someone to lean on before,” Rogers said. “The biggest difference in getting through challenges was having professors and mentors who truly cared. They wanted to see me succeed, and that’s why it’s so important to me to also have this mission and this goal to help others.”

Once healed, she returned to Utah Tech where she earned a Bachelor’s of Science in Psychology in May 2024.

She was also the recipient of the GRIT award given to students who demonstrate exceptional perseverance, resilience and overcome significant personal challenges while maintaining a commitment to their education and personal growth at Utah Tech.

She was also on the president’s list, and her grades propelled her to becoming one of the Elite 11. Rogers is now pursuing a graduate degree to become a licensed therapist, which she believes will give her the necessary skills to help others overcome traumatic loss.

Rogers now aims to create a community that provides resources for grieving youth in Southern Utah and other rural areas.

“I want to create a facility where people who are grieving can come for free,” Rogers said.

She envisions providing therapeutic services, including group therapy and support groups, an empathetic viewpoint and longing to help that dates back to her childhood.

“I had a lot of generational traumas and issues — drug addiction in my family, mental illness, poverty,” she said.

Lilliana Rogers stands with Utah Tech administration as she is recognized for outstanding academic achievement, St. George, Utah, date not specified | Photo courtesy of Lilliana Rogers, St. George News

Rogers wants to create a place where locals don’t have to experience grief alone.

“I know there’s not anything really like that here in this area or Kanab,” Rogers said. “I’m hoping that as soon as I get done with my graduate program, I can start providing that service to this community.”

Rogers shares her story often, hoping that it inspires.

“I want to be the person that I didn’t have to other people,” Rogers said.

She also acknowledges there will be challenges ahead.

“I’ve had doubts. ‘Am I really even good enough to pass my first semester in college?’” Rogers said. “When that happens, I turn to the people that I can rely on; the mentors, the professors, the people in my life that believe in me, and they make me believe in myself.”

She points to her father’s comments to appreciate everything while still living as words that inspire her.

“I try to look at every day, the beauty in every day,” she said. “I remember that I am alive today, and I’m not going to spend the limited time I have mourning his loss. He would want me to celebrate his life and celebrate mine.”

For more information or to connect with Lilliana Rogers, please contact her via email at [email protected].

Copyright St. George News, LLC, 2024, all rights reserved.

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