January 4, 2016

Cancer warrior emphasized living, not dying

Posted by WARREN PERLEY – Editor, BestStory.ca
Writing from Montreal

I knew from experience that I would have to hustle if I wanted to visit Jonathan Truchon in the hospital on April 5, 2015 after his seventh cancer operation three days earlier.

It was Easter Sunday, and the weather was glorious – sunny but a tad nippy because of a robust wind accompanying the minus 3° C temperature. One year earlier – on Thursday, May 8, 2014 – I had attempted such an impromptu visit one day after Jonathan had undergone a similar spine operation at the Jewish General Hospital (JGH) only to discover to my amazement that he had already left to continue recuperating at his parents’ Châteauguay home.

The April 2, 2015 operation was to remove part of the tumor which had regenerated on his spine where surgeons had removed most of it in May 2014. Doctors at the JGH didn’t want to operate on Jonathan again in April 2015 because another surgery on the delicate spine area could have led to complete paralysis or death during the operation itself.

Throughout his life, Jonathan Truchon exhibited courage and optimism, always reaching out in support of other cancer patients.

But Jonathan, a bodybuilder and boxer, insisted that if he only had six months to live – as the doctors had told him and his family – because the cancer had spread, then he wanted to be able to stand on his own two feet, while at the same time taking every possible measure to extend his life.

It was no contest when it came to the battle of wills between the medical men in blue scrubs and Jonathan: the charismatic young man got his way with the doctors who, like everyone who met him during his short life’s journey, fell under the sway of his courage and charisma.

He was accompanied into the April 2, 2015 surgery by Dr. Peter Jarzem, an orthopedic surgeon who had operated on Jonathan on June 13, 2011 to replace his L4 lumbar vertebra with a synthetic one to deal with the ravages of cancer and the weakening of his back bone caused by radiation and chemotherapy treatments he had undergone between July and December 2010.

Dr. Jarzem was not among the surgeons who operated on Jonathan on April 2, 2015, but the senior surgeon walked him into the operating room as a sign of solidarity and support. It was also a potent indicator of the kind of bonds Jonathan formed with those who crossed his path.

Two weeks after the April 2, 2015 surgery, Dr. Jarzem was part of the surgical team which conducted an eighth operation on Jonathan to clean out an infection in his spine and brain which had taken hold after the spine surgery two weeks earlier.

As I entered the family room at the JGH on Easter Sunday April 5, 2015, there, once again, was Dr. Jarzem wearing blue jeans and a ski jacket on his day off. Jonathan, in his blue hospital gown and sitting in a wheelchair, was surrounded by his immediate family: mother, Lyne; father, Denis; his three brothers – Jean-François, Simon, Olivier – grandfather, Richard Provost, and grandmother, Aline Provost; his baby niece, Élanie Truchon; and, of course, his beloved Uncle Stéphane Provost and wife, Aunt Vicki.

Jonathan had asked his family to attend this special intimate hospital gathering to prove, once again, how the power of positive thinking and support from his family and friends helped him deal with his health challenges. The daunting task he had assigned himself this time was to stand up and walk a few steps when conventional wisdom dictated that his body with its frail, wounded spine should be incapable of such a feat.

There was silence in the room as we all held our breath watching Jonathan use his muscular arms to lift himself out of the chair. With the help of an orderly who steadied him, we stared in amazement as he walked about half a dozen steps before easing back into the wheelchair.

I glanced at Dr. Jarzem: there were tears in his eyes as he hugged Jonathan. “You’re my hero,” the patient told his doctor. “No,” replied the doctor, “you’re my hero!”

Jonathan went on to thank Dr. Jarzem and the medical team at the JGH for taking such good care of him and his family, saying he was put on earth to fight the scourge of cancer and to give hope to others suffering from the disease. Everyone in the room wore a plastic red nose, representing the Fondation Néz pour Vivre , an organization in which Jonathan played an active role, collecting funds for research and support of young Quebec adults, 18 to 35 years of age, who have been impacted by cancer and for their families.

In fact, Jonathan had in recent years become a star speaker and fund-raiser for both Fondation Néz pour Vivre and its sister non-profit organization, La Fondation des Gouverneurs de l’Espoir, which collects funds for cancer patients up to 18 years of age and for their families. In total, more than $8 million has been raised by the two organizations over the last 10 years.

Founder Francine Laplante called Jonathan her “captain.” He was a frequent guest speaker at various CEGEPs and high schools. An annual golf tournament which in 2015 raised $140,000 for her two charitable foundations at the Bellevue Golf Club in Léry, Quebec, has since been named in honor of Jonathan Truchon.

Jonathan was admired and befriended by some of the world’s greatest athletes, including former UFC welterweight champion Georges St-Pierre and Corey Crawford, the star goalie of the 2015 Stanley Cup champion Chicago Blackhawks.

Andrew Lavigne, co-owner of Ace Athletik fitness centre, told me that Crawford had tears in his eyes when he brought the Stanley Cup to his hometown of Chateauguay in August 2015 and saw Jonathan ambling towards him as fast as he could using his walker. Everyone, including Crawford, applauded when Jonathan entered the gym, where he worked out himself and helped Andrew train other athletes, including Crawford in the off-season.

After hearing news of Jonathan’s death, I thought back to the extensive interview I had with him, his mother, Lyne, and his Uncle Stéphane in August 2011, gleaning everything I could during a mammoth, eight-hour session so that I could write a detailed story explaining his remarkable attitude and courage in the face of a disease which afflicts millions of people.

I recalled how robust he seemed at that time, brimming with confidence and optimism about his future plans as an inspirational speaker to encourage those battling cancer and to help raise funds in their support. I also remembered how his mother, Lyne, would frequently break down in sobs as he recounted his amazing recovery up to that point.

What I didn’t know then and only found out after Jonathan’s passing was that his mother, Lyne, and his father, Denis, were guarding a secret that doctors at the JGH had confided to them after Jonathan’s spinal cancer operation in May 2011, three months before I interviewed him: The cancer had spread into Jonathan’s bone marrow, meaning he did not have long to live.

“If you have anything you want to achieve with your son, do it now,” they told his parents at that time, according to his uncle Stéphane. Nobody knew the dread that Lyne and Denis were living with for the last four years, knowing the prognosis for their beloved son. As usual, Jonathan managed to exceed doctors’ expectations. After his May 2014 spine operation which doctors believed could leave him crippled, he amazed his oncologist, Dr. Petr Kavan, showing up at his checkup a month later without the aid of a walker.

Dr. Kavan was very emotional and had a big smile on his face when Jonathan walked into his office, Stéphane recalled of that meeting. “Dr. Kavan said: ‘I just don’t believe it. You’re a miracle.’”

The “miracle” known as Jonathan Truchon lived to celebrate his 27th birthday on December 16, 2015 and spent one more Christmas in the embrace of his family before passing peacefully at home at 3:15 p.m. on December 30, 2015.

Nothing about Jonathan’s trajectory seemed to have changed in the intervening years since I interviewed him in August 2011 other than the fact that as of 2015 he had faced eight bouts with cancer, compared with the five he had overcome when I first met him. For Jonathan, it was always business as usual: battling his cancer, one operation at a time and getting on with the business of life, building bridges to encourage and help other cancer patients.

Jonathan showed courage, determination and a positive attitude in facing the foe of cancer from cradle to grave. I’m proud to have known him and to have had the privilege to interview him and to write about his special character, which will undoubtedly continue to inspire others facing similar adversities. In hindsight, there is not a word in the BestStory.ca article posted in April 2012 that I would change.

In fact, one quote from that story sustains me through the sad days of mourning for this special spiritual warrior: It was a comment Jonathan made to Stéphane when he caught his uncle weeping quietly after 15-year-old Jonathan had undergone a cancer operation on his face in July 2003 at the JGH and was resting in his hospital bed:

“Don’t cry Uncle Stéph. It’s only sad if you live and are not remembered by anyone. It’s important to touch people’s lives. I’ve been blessed to receive and give more love than someone two or three times my age.”

[See teaser below]

Published: APRIL 2012
Peter Pan warrior shares his secret for beating cancer five times

Writing from Montreal

Jonathan Truchon, 22, is intimate with the sterile cut of surgical steel. The young man from Châteauguay, Quebec, has left more than his fair share of body parts in the cold, kidney-shaped surgeon’s basin, including 85 percent of his cancerous liver. But when you’ve beaten cancer repeatedly, starting at 18 months of age, you don’t think of yourself as a victim. “Warrior” might be a more apt description, winning every medical battle, one at a time.

4,098 Words | 15 Photos

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