On a warm Friday night last November, Nathan DeRoche didn’t feel well. He was having trouble breathing and was bothered by a high-pitched cough that indicated pneumonia, an infection or something as benign as allergies. He was taken to Salem Hospital. But the x-ray there told a more urgent story—this was no infection, this was cancer. Nathan had a mass in his throat and chest, large enough to press against his trachea, leaving a clearing of just three millimeters to breathe.
Just 13 years old, Nathan handled the news with his chin up, even as he was rushed to Mass General Hospital, even as it was determined that the tumor was too big and dangerous to be immediately operated on, not until Nathan had undergone two days of treatments on steroids. When a biopsy finally was taken, the diagnosis was confirmed: Nathan had T-cell lymphoblastic lymphoma, an aggressive, fast-moving cancer that attacks certain white blood cells, especially in children and teenagers.
There was good news, though. This type of lymphoma is treatable, and 90 percent curable. But like all cancers, the physical and mental toll is high. For Nathan, that has included eight-week cycles of combination chemotherapy, utilizing 10 different types of chemo agents. It has included steroids. It has included a total of 15 spinal taps—painful tests of his lumbar fluid—so far. Nathan will be going through chemotherapy until March 2019.
Through it all, Nathan has not stopped being the same positive, active kid he was before he had any idea what lymphoblastic lymphoma was. He is suiting up for the Vikings baseball team this summer, and has not let his status as a cancer patient interfere with his status as a ball player. He’s lifted the rest of his team with his courage and spirit.
“Nate has a genuine ability to spread joy and positivity to both coaches and players the second he walks on the diamond,” coach Scott Lynch said.
“He has made an enormous positive impact on both the culture and overall attitude of our team.” "Nathan is a daily inspiration to us all, he's facing adversity head on like he knows best, with a smile on his face and positive mindset! We are learning through him, how to become better men & women and are truly lucky to have him as our favorite brother/son!!" - The Vikings Baseball Family
And just as Nathan has inspired teammates, the community around his has been inspired to action to support him. Fundraising and emotional support has come pouring in from Nathan’s extended sports families—Vikings baseball, Vipers hockey, Swampscott Little League, Swampscott middle and high schools, Cops for Kids with Cancer, Nahant4Nathan at Nahant Country Club and even Lynn English and Masconomet high schools have all come through with fundraisers and special events to boost Nathan in this fight against cancer.
He is having an impact beyond his friends from baseball and hockey. During his trips to MGH, Nathan has earned a reputation for leaving doctors and nurses laughing, and Dr. Howard Weinstein, the chief of pediatric hematology and oncology at the hospital, dedicated his fund-raising run in this year’s Boston Marathon to Nathan.
“He is a fun loving and caring teenager who is quite the ice hockey and baseball player,” Dr. Weinstein said. “Nathan has had a tough few months but is making great progress and looking forward to get back to school and playing sports.”
Little surprise, Nathan is already ahead of schedule on that.
(Donations can be made to Citizens bank Nathanstrong account #1326655806.)