Driving Forward

One High School Student’s Journey Through Cancer Treatment

By Sarah Petrie

Lucas Barcelos is an intelligent, well-spoken, high-spirited teenager with his sights set on a career in civil engineering. He likes math over English and built his own computer by watching instructional videos on YouTube. He has a twin brother, Logan, and two older brothers. He enjoys card games like Kings in the Corner and Euchre.

He also happens to be a patient at Orillia Soldiers’ Memorial Hospital’s Pediatric Oncology Group of Ontario (POGO) Satellite Clinic.

While the program name is a mouthful, Lucas has no problem articulating the story of his battle with cancer. He carries conversation easily for someone of his age, showing a maturity far beyond his years. In fact, when talking to Lucas, it’s easy to forget he’s only 17.

I sat down with Lucas and his mom, Kendra, on a Thursday morning in August while he was waiting to receive his weekly chemotherapy treatment.

Lucas and his mom, Kendra, standing outside the POGO waiting room before receiving his weekly maintenance chemotherapy at Soldiers’.

A typical Thursday for him begins with blood work at 8:30 am. He spends time chatting with the POGO Nurse Coordinator, Amanda, while his chemo prescription is prepared. After it is administered, he’s tired.

“I usually nap the rest of my Thursdays away,” he says. But by Friday, “I’m good to go.”

When Lucas was 15, he was presenting symptoms of what he and his mom thought was mono. When chest pains began to accompany his ailments, he was sent for a CT scan. The imaging seemed to indicate cancer. When Lucas returned to the hospital to confirm the diagnosis, doctors found his heart beating at 250 beats per minute. He was immediately airlifted to SickKids where he spent the next month.

Lucas was diagnosed with a rare form of Peripheral T-Cell Lymphoma.

He had two masses (10 cm and 11 cm) that were compressing his lungs and heart. Initially, doctors were unsure how to treat his form of cancer as it wasn’t one with a set of documented management plans. SickKids consulted medical teams in Germany and the United States and approached treatment with an aggressive chemo regiment that kept Lucas in Toronto’s Ronald McDonald House.

Lucas in hospital undergoing an aggressive chemotherapy regimen.

He would go to the city for six days of chemo, then return home for two weeks of rest. Then another six days of a different form of chemo, followed by two weeks of rest. This routine lasted for six rounds.

It was the second chemo recipe that caused him the most difficulty. His mouth, throat, and entire digestive tract would swell with painful sores—a side effect of chemotherapy called Mucositis—so badly that he would be unable to eat or drink. It was those bouts that would get him admitted to Soldiers’ where he would be fed intravenously until he was well enough to go home. 

When the initial treatments were finished at SickKids, Lucas had the option of doing his maintenance chemotherapy through one of POGO’s satellite clinics—one of which happens to be here at Soldiers’.

They were already familiar with this Hospital.

“If his fever spiked, we’d come here,” Kendra recalls. “If he was unable to eat or drink, we’d come here.”

Choosing to receive his follow up treatment here was an easy decision.

“Living and working in Barrie, Orillia is closer to home,” says Kendra. “The POGO program at Soldiers’ is well-established and it allows me to be here at the hospital, go to work for a few hours, and come right back if I need to.”

POGO has a number of satellite clinics across the province that allow patients to receive treatment without having to travel to one of the program’s main cancer centres, Toronto’s SickKids in Lucas’ case.

For Kendra, the value of having this service in the region reduces the stress, both emotionally and financially, on the whole family, plus she says there’s a greater sense of belonging at a local health centre you just don’t get at the bigger hospitals.

“There’s something about a community hospital that makes you feel well taken care of,” she offers of Soldiers’.  “The environment and everyone here is absolutely brilliant.”

Lucas (second from right) standing with his three brothers. The boys shaved their heads to support their brother who had lost his hair due to his treatment.

Lucas acknowledges that his experience isn’t the typical one for Soldiers’ POGO team.

“I’m an older patient, so I can talk,” Lucas says jokingly. “With some of the younger patients who can’t, the team spends a lot of time talking to and reassuring the parents.”

“It can be a stressful,” Lucas’ mom pipes in. “They really do a great job of making you feel comfortable.”

“With POGO, they address not just the acute care side of things,” she adds. “They assist with other aspects as well. Anything Lucas needs, they try their best to assist. We are working with POGO to get Lucas a tutor for the fall. It will be a big year for him going back to school full time, with lots of homework.”

After a year away from school, Lucas is excited to get back to his normal routine. He plans to graduate high school alongside his friends next June before returning for an extra semester to prepare for university.

“We’ve tried to keep things as normal as possible,” says mom Kendra.

Despite missing his grade 11 year, he made the most of his time in hospital.

 “I studied for my G1 test,” Lucas explains excitedly. “And when I was feeling well enough to take it, I aced it.” 

Like any teenager would be, Lucas is thrilled by the idea of driving. He is now taking in-car lessons working toward his G2 with the goal of driving himself to school in September. He’s also back at work at a local movie theatre, a job he started a few months before his diagnosis.

“I feel good,” he says. “Compared to the heavy chemo I was doing last year, this is a walk in the park.”

Lucas wrapped up his weekly chemotherapy treatments at the end of September, just in time for him to enjoy his last year of high school with his friends.  

If you would like to make a gift in support of Paediatrics at Soldiers’, please contact the Foundation Office today at 705.325.6464 or visit osmhfoundation.ca/donate.