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North River teen recovering from rare form of cancer

Deven Desjardins
Deven Desjardins - Lynn Curwin

NORTH RIVER, N.S.

Deven Desjardins had never heard of rhabdomyosarcoma until he was diagnosed with the uncommon form of cancer. After months of treatment, he’s now feeling much better.

“Things are going well; I’ve got a bit more energy,” he said. “I recently had my three-month check-up and I’m still cancer free.”

Deven was 17 when he noticed a lump on the side of his neck, and he thought he’d injured himself in his sleep. As the lump continued to grow, it began pressing on his inner ear and causing pain.

His mother, Alisha Marshall, was taking him to doctors but felt they weren’t being taken seriously.

“They made it seem like I was overreacting,” she said. “It grew a lot in three months and he was getting bad headaches, going to bed around seven. It was three months after we noticed it before it was diagnosed, and it was at stage three by then.”

Diagnosis is done through a biopsy, but cutting into the tumour caused the lump to grow faster than ever, and turn purplish.

Although Deven had turned 18, he received all of his treatments at the IWK because rhabdomyosarcoma (where malignant cells form in muscle tissue) is usually a childhood cancer. He went through weeks of daily radiation and months of once-a-week chemotherapy treatments, with his last treatment in early November.

While undergoing treatment he met one other person, a boy from the Annapolis Valley, with rhabdomyosarcoma. They still keep in touch online.

He and his mother were both impressed by the treatment they received at the IWK and their stay at The Lodge That Gives, which provides accommodation to cancer patients and their family during treatment.

“For a while I had bad mouth sores and no appetite, so I couldn’t drink or eat,” recalled Deven. “My appetite is coming back but there are some things that don’t taste good now. I don’t like chocolate any more, and I don’t like milk products.”

One of the drugs he was given, coupled with a lack of activity, contributed to tightening of the calf muscles, making it impossible for him to put his heels down. He took part in physiotherapy but expects to have surgery on his calves in the future.

Because he missed classes while going through chemotherapy, Deven has returned to school this year to get his final three credits.

He attended Brigadoon cancer camp, and is thinking about going back as a counsellor in the summer.

“Going through this made me want to help others who are going through a tough time,” he said.

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