Forty six weeks of chemotherapy looked like a mountain of Kilimanjaro proportion.
Forty six weeks of dizziness, fatigue, nausea, weight and hair loss.
Forty six weeks of hell.
But time marched on.
One week became two and two became a month.
Summer turned into fall and then winter and suddenly there was a light at the end of this darkened tunnel. For the first time in a long time, there was hope.
Hope that his story would end in triumph, not tragedy.
As the weeks continued to roll by, did he allow himself to look ahead? Did he think about what it might be like to hear the one word cancer patients want to hear.
Or would saying it out loud somehow compromise the chances of sitting in a doctor’s office in mid-July and hear him say the R word?
Kyle Lorteau has never liked the phrase knock on wood.
Not a superstitious sort, he silently seethes as his friend Shannon uses the expression to cover her bases against the fickle whims of cosmic fate.
Hoping to pass a test.
Knock on wood.
Hoping to avoid a cold.
Knock on wood.
“I hate that because I hate superstitions,” Kyle said. “And I always told her, ‘No! No more knocking on wood.’”
He doesn’t believe in jinxes.
He doesn’t believe in luck, unless it’s good.
If there is one kid who is going to say the word remission without fear of cosmic backlash, it is Kyle.
“I’ve never actually thought about chemo not working and me not beating the cancer,” he said. “I have thought lots about afterwards when it’s going to be no more chemo and just doing my thing. This whole time, I’ve just focused on wanting everything back the way it was.”
And that’s just about where it is.
Here we sit on June 30.
After months of misery, Kyle is down to his last three weeks of chemo, with the final dose scheduled for July 25.
There are no guarantees, not until the post-chemo tests come back clean.
Even then, the 18-year-old will spend the rest of his life with regular checkups hanging over his head like the Sword of Damocles. But odds that were once stacked overwhelmingly in cancer’s favour have now tilted.
Kyle is oh so close to being able to say he battled one of the worst cancers you can get, and beat the snot out of it.
“I don’t think I’ll ever be able to put it behind me and for a long time Monday’s are going to be coming and I’ll be dreading them,” he admitted. “It’ll be weird not having to do it anymore. But now I can go out and get a job, because I’m tired of borrowing money from everyone.”
June 11, not July 25, was the day that kept Kyle going through weeks of chemo, endless visits to the Children’s Hospital and all the other bits and pieces of cancer-related misery.
On graduation day he would walk onto the stage with all of his Chilliwack secondary school friends, receive his high school diploma and celebrate the closing of one chapter and opening of another.
For most teens, the significance is lost.
The finality doesn’t sink in.
They don’t realize that the people they know and care about now will mostly fade from their lives as they move into the bigger world. For Kyle, his friends have been his lifeline and cancer, in a strange way, has given him a gift.
It has been said that you have to wait for death to find out what people thought of you in life, and by that point you’re unlikely to care.
Though you wouldn’t wish Kyle’s last 16 months upon your worst enemy, it has made him far more appreciative of the people around him.
Support from his family — mom Flora, dad Chad and brother David was always going to be there.
The gift was finding out who else was in his corner. Because of awful, dreadful, despicable cancer, Kyle knows he’s not just liked, but loved.
Hundreds of people were willing to have his back when things went wrong and the proof exists in a notebook that his parents gave him in the hospital — signed by everyone who came to visit him. There are a lot of names in that thing.
“I found it the other day and I read through it and I was like, ‘Wow,’” Kyle said. “All my friends, their parents, the teachers, they’ve been great. It’s been nuts and I don’t even know how to explain it.”
On the last school day of November 2010, a group of students took it upon themselves to shave their heads.
Girls who take their hair seriously (extreme understatement) let it fall to the floor in support of their friend.
Classmates wore t-shirts emblazoned with Kyle’s personal slogan, ‘Too Legit to Quit, and somewhere along the way they started calling him Legit Lorteau.
When all of this started, Kyle strongly considered taking a year off, coming back in 2012 to finish high school.
Time proved he made the right call.
“All the people in our grad class, we all know everyone through one person or another and we’re a close knit group,” he explained. “It’s not like, ‘Oh that kid. I don’t want to hang out with him.’ So going through Grade 10, 11 and not finishing off didn’t seem right. And starting with a new group, I couldn’t even think of it.”
For all those reasons and more, graduation day was everything Kyle dreamed it would be.
No one got more cheers than he did as he received his high school diploma.
And no one got more hugs afterwards.
“Everyone blew up when I got up to the stage,” he said. “It was un-freakin-believable.”
One person in the crowd was louder than any other.
As the throng at the First Avenue Christian Assembly exploded, Kyle could see his mom leading the cheers.
He was happy to see her happy.
Chad was quiet.
But as Kyle looked at him he could see pride. For 16 months, no two people had meant more to Kyle than his mom and dad. They had shotgun seats on the cancer roller coaster, experiencing vicariously every twist, turn and dizzying drop.
The experience led Chad to cardiac arrest and rendered Flora an insomnia and worry riddled mess. But, the experience also brought the Lorteaus closer than they’d ever been before.
“At 16 or 17 years old, you usually lose all communication with your kids, and this has made sure that door can’t close,” Flora said with a weary smile. “I have no problem telling my kids that I love them and I don’t care anymore if they get embarrassed. And now, Kyle will say that to me as well.”
If it is true that adversity builds character, then Kyle is set for life. He’ll never be able to put this behind him, no matter how hard he tries.
Cancer leaves scars that never heal.
But for every test Kyle will dread over the course of his lifetime, he will be able to reach back and remember this.
As horrible as cancer was, he’s a better man because of it.
“I’ve turned into a nicer person, and I’m more optimistic than I’ve ever been,” Kyle said. “I got dealt one of the worst hands you can get and I turned it into something that made me a better person.”
“And I’m still untouchable.”