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Eric Gallant's will never wavered.
He was determined to beat cancer, even after doctors told him he only had one year to live.
The Charlottetown man, who grew up in Georgetown, started experiencing bad nasal infections during the winter of 2013-14.
A series of visits to various doctors followed. X-rays were taken, and he was given different forms of medication to help. He underwent an adenoidectomy where his adenoids, glands located in the roof of the mouth, were removed and biopsied. When the results came back, the news was not good.
Gallant was diagnosed with stage 4 nasopharyngeal cancer. Doctors told him in November 2014 it had spread to his spinal column and chest and was inching toward his brain. It had also metastasized into his lymph nodes.
“That’s where you get the sick feeling,’’ Gallant said in an interview Tuesday, recalling his reaction to the news. “I said, ‘holy sweet Jesus’. There was no choice but to fight. I told my doctors I was ready for a battle.’’
- Grew up in Georgetown, now resides in Charlottetown.
- Worked at the local shipyard and seafood processing plant.
- When he was 21, became a guard at the provincial correctional centre.
- Has enjoyed weightlifting, playing hockey and golfing.
Dr. Larry Pan, radiation oncologist and head of radiation oncology at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital, said it is always hard to tell a patient they have cancer, "and for patients such as Eric, when the cancer has spread, it is an even more difficult conversation''.
Not wanting to ruin anyone's Christmas, Gallant told no one in the family about the diagnosis.
“I just couldn’t believe it. I was stressed out. I ate (lots of) food but never gained a pound because I was stressed all the time thinking about it.’’
Gallant is telling his story in the leadup to the annual Queen Elizabeth Hospital/Eastlink Telethon. The traditional televised telethon, which was supposed to air May 23-24, was cancelled due to the ongoing coronavirus (COVID-19 strain) pandemic. Now, organizers are moving ahead with plans for a much smaller version of the telethon, which entails a video celebration, that will be broadcast on Eastlink and on the hospital’s foundation Facebook page on Tuesday, June 2. The television broadcast starts at 7 p.m. with the Facebook feed beginning at 7:30 p.m.
After closely monitoring COVID-19 and the advice of the Chief Public Health Officer around physical distancing, we have...Posted by Queen Elizabeth Hospital Foundation on Wednesday, April 15, 2020
Ed Lawlor, chairman of the Queen Elizabeth Hospital Foundation, said $1.35 million of the $1.5 million needed for a new CT simulator has already been raised.
“The celebration will still include some telethon elements, such as an interview with a grateful patient and greetings from supportive businesses and community members,’’ Lawlor said.
Gallant counts himself as grateful. The hospital became his second home in January 2015. The Georgetown native told physicians he wanted the most aggressive form of chemotherapy they could administer.
“I told them to make the gasoline as strong as you can,’’ he said, referring to the chemotherapy. “If I’m going to die before next Christmas I might as well die in July. No difference to me. Give me whatever you can. Pedal to the floor. I told the doctor, ‘I’m not fooling, I don’t care how sick I get’.’’
Gallant spent four months on chemotherapy, describing it as a disgusting blend of having a bad flu and then drinking a quart and a half of moonshine and feeling that the next day.
He forced himself to eat, mostly protein shakes, even though he wasn’t hungry and lost his sense of taste. It helped. Gallant lost only 7.5 pounds in those four months.
"I said, ‘just take that dial and turn it all the way up’. He looked at me amazed. I said, ‘just kill it’. The doctor said, ‘we’re going to think outside the box with you, Eric’. I said, ‘you can think outside of the box, the triangle, the rectangle, the circle, whatever you want. Just do it’.’’
Gallant also tried to stay as active as he could. He would go outside and shovel snow, come back inside, grab a drink, rest on the couch and then go back outside to do more shovelling. Come spring, he even went golfing with friends, just to be around people, share a few laughs and maybe hit the occasional ball.
Following the four months of chemotherapy, doctors said radiation was now an option. Treatment began in June 2015 and lasted six weeks.
“I told (the doctor), I know there is a dial on that radiation machine. I said, ‘just take that dial and turn it all the way up’. He looked at me amazed. I said, ‘just kill it’. The doctor said, ‘we’re going to think outside the box with you, Eric’. I said, ‘you can think outside of the box, the triangle, the rectangle, the circle, whatever you want. Just do it’.’’
That said, it needs to be noted that there are protocols in place when it comes to any form of treatment. The decision is the doctor's, although Gallant says he wanted to be treated as aggressively as possible.
Gallant used a golf analogy to describe his attitude when it came to fighting terminal cancer.
“I said, ‘it’s a lot easier to golf when you’re looking down at the grass than underneath looking up at it’.’’
Gallant said it took more than a year to recover from the effects of the chemotherapy treatment, although he didn’t find the radiation to be all that taxing.
He was met with a lot of stigma during his treatment.
“People around me were afraid to talk about cancer or even to say the word cancer. I didn’t care. I told them I was glad to be there to talk to them about it.’’
During the agonizing months he went through treatment in 2015, his daughter delivered the news that she was pregnant. Gallant said he was determined to stick around long enough to meet the baby.
Along the way, Gallant had checkups every six months, battling anxiety in the days leading up to sitting down in the doctor’s office.
“It is like looking up at a judge. It’s either going to be a life sentence or a death sentence,’’ he said, referring to the moments before the doctor walked in.
All of the chemotherapy and radiation proved to be worth it when, in 2016, test results began to show that Gallant’s condition was improving. Then, this past January, he received news that was nothing short of amazing – he had hit the five-year mark with no sign of cancer.
He almost didn’t know how to take the news that he was cancer-free. Gallant had spent so much time battling to walk up the mountain he almost didn’t know what to do when he got to the top.
“It feels good. It’s something I knew I had in me. I never said, ‘why me?’. I said, ‘let’s deal with it’. I gave it everything. The mentality I had was if I go down, I’m going down swinging. I knocked on death’s door and no one answered. I was damned if I was going to ring the bell, so I walked away.’’
Pan said his patient's attitude was key.
"Eric's journey has certainly been remarkable, and we credit his determination along with the skill and technology available on the Island,'' Pan said.
Gallant hopes his story can inspire others.
“Believe you can do it. It’s all due to with your willpower and your mind. It’s like (former professional boxer) Muhammed Ali says, ‘if you conceive it and believe it, you will achieve it’. There’s no sense in feeling sorry for yourself. Just keep pushing.’’
Eastlink, QEH Foundation to hold video celebration to raise money for new CT simulator
The Queen Elizabeth Hospital Foundation continues to receive support to fund the purchase of a new CT simulator for the P.E.I. Cancer Treatment Centre in Charlottetown.
Even though the annual QEH/Eastlink Telethon was cancelled, this year’s supporters will be celebrated in an upcoming video that will be available on Eastlink Community TV’s Island View as well as on the foundation’s Facebook page.
Ed Lawlor, chairman of the foundation, says the celebration video will still include some telethon elements such as an interview with a grateful patient and greetings from supportive businesses and community members.
Lawlor said the Eastlink broadcast will begin at 7 p.m. on Tuesday, June 2 while the video celebration will be available on the foundation’s Facebook page at 7:30 p.m.
Bruce MacLean, manager of Eastlink programming in P.E.I., says host Matt Beardsley will interview Tracey Comeau, CEO of the foundation, Dr. Larry Pan, radiation oncologist and head of the P.E.I. Cancer Treatment Centre, and, Marlene MacDonald, telethon host for the past 22 years.
“Eastlink Community TV has always enjoyed a wonderful partnership with the QEH Foundation, and this is our way to continue our support,’’ MacLean said. “Equipment priorities will be always important to Islanders and by showcasing their video, we can still celebrate the many donors and event organizers who have been part of the telethon over the years.’’
The main focus of the foundation is to complete funding for the CT simulator for the treatment centre – a campaign that began during the foundation’s Friends for Life drive last fall. To date, about $1.35 million of the $1.5 million cost of a new simulator has been raised.
Anything above and beyond $1.5 million will support equipment required for the ease back phase of the hospital’s COVID-19 response, such as new system attachments to restore the use of nitrous oxide for pain relief in pediatrics and the labour and delivery unit.
Donors can support the foundation’s efforts by visiting www.qehfoundation.pe.ca, through mail or by calling the foundation office at 902-894-2425.
- Halifax cancer survivor riding for local breast health at the QEII
- Pandemic causes cancellation of QEH/Eastlink telethon in P.E.I.
- Charlottetown cancer survivor praises doctor's exceptional bedside manner
- QEH Telethon raises $641,525 for purchase of new CT scanner
- P.E.I. cancer patients benefiting from leading-edge treatment