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Sports 17-year-old won't play hockey again, but leaves Montreal hospital cancer-free

14:06  21 september  2021
14:06  21 september  2021 Source:   montrealgazette.com

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a man standing in a room: “For sure, I won’t be able to do the same things as before, but I will try to do the maximum with what I can do,” says 17-year-old cancer survivor Philippe Villeneuve, with mother Sonia Bellefleur and father Martin Villeneuve Monday, September 20, 2021 at the Montreal Children's Hospital. © Provided by The Gazette “For sure, I won’t be able to do the same things as before, but I will try to do the maximum with what I can do,” says 17-year-old cancer survivor Philippe Villeneuve, with mother Sonia Bellefleur and father Martin Villeneuve Monday, September 20, 2021 at the Montreal Children's Hospital.

Philippe Villeneuve is going home this week, hopefully for good. The 17-year-old and his family were taking stock of a tumultuous year Monday morning at the Montreal Children’s Hospital.

Philippe is recovering from his 28th and — fingers crossed — final round of chemotherapy for osteosarcoma, a form of bone cancer.

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“I feel very good,” he said, cracking a smile. “It’s one step done. It’s been almost a year. Now it’s time to pick up a different life than before, but a more normal life.”

It will be a life without competitive hockey, Philippe’s sport of choice, which he played as part of a special program at his high school. He was also an avid baseball player.

“I haven’t played hockey all year,” he said.

“There was a mourning period at the beginning,” said his father, Martin. “They told him he wouldn’t be able to play contact sports anymore — that he could keep playing for pleasure, but competitive hockey was over.”

“That was … I don’t know the exact emotion, but I’d say a bit of sadness,” Philippe recalled. “It was a shock.”

It all began with a pain in his knee. Philippe thought it was a sprain; it turned out to be a cancerous tumour that had taken over most of his femur.

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“We had to remove the whole femur and put in a metal implant to replace it,” said Dr. Robert Turcotte, the orthopedic surgeon who performed the procedure. “That’s a significant piece of tissue to lose and reconstruct — we detached a lot of muscles, all the muscles that make the hip move, but we kept his ability to extend and bend his knee, which is most important for walking.”

Philippe will still be able to get around, but he will walk with a cane. He has had to revisit his ambition of becoming a firefighter. He is pondering career options including car mechanic, bus driver or forklift operator.

“For sure, I won’t be able to do the same things as before, but I will try to do the maximum with what I can do,” he said.

Everyone around him is amazed by Philippe’s philosophical outlook.

“I’m very happy it’s over,” said his mother, Sonia Bellefleur. “Cancer has a lot of negatives, but it also brings a lot of positives. Through all of this, I discovered another son, other sides of him I never would have seen otherwise.”

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The ordeal has brought the entire family — including Philippe’s younger sisters, Florence, 15, and Gabrielle, 12 — closer together.

“I hope this continues,” Bellefleur said of the new-found sense of intimacy.

“(Philippe is) a pretty stoic guy,” said Dr. Surabhi Rawal, a pediatric hematologist-oncologist who has been his primary physician since taking over his file in the spring.

“I know he hates being here, but he will never let on.”

Rawal is impressed with how Philippe has been able to relativize his condition compared to what other kids are going through at the Montreal Children’s Hospital.

“He internalizes that, and uses it to manage his own experiences of pain, discomfort and frustration at being in the building,” she said.

“There are things we can control, and things we can’t control. We can’t control the natural course of his disease … but one thing that is in his control is his perspective.”

Nurse Paula Jofre has witnessed Philippe blossom over the past 10 months.

“I watched this young man come out of his shell,” Jofre said. “He has persevered and become a very resilient person. I can see him enjoying the important things in life.

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“To see a kid make it through all this is very inspiring. There’s always uncertainty, but all we can do is hope for the best and (allow them to) continue to dream.”

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