By Emma Mann, for Riley Children’s Health
Will DesJean is a champion in more ways than one. Recently, he won the Boys 10 & under 200 Freestyle at the IUPUI Natatorium as part of the Indiana age group long course championships.
When asked about his victory, Will responded with a simple three words: “It was good.”
For the DesJean family, good swim meets, good days and good health are gifts they don’t take for granted after what their family has been through.
In October 2020, Will was struggling to bear weight on his left leg, and a swim practice ended with a fracture of his femur. His mom, Stacy, a nurse, knew something wasn’t right and took then 8-year-old Will to Riley Hospital for Children, where tests revealed osteosarcoma – bone cancer.
Since that initial diagnosis, Will has gone through several rounds of chemotherapy and multiple surgeries, the most recent being the removal of a tumor in his lungs in September 2021.
After his most recent scans on July 27, with the help of Dr. Christopher Collier, his orthopedic oncologist, and Dr. Melissa Bear, his oncologist, his family is happy to say that Will, now 10, has no evidence of cancer.
But the effects still linger, Stacy and Chris DesJean say. His body is fragile, and a reinjury of his leg could cause complications and put Will at high risk for amputation. Because of this, modifications have to be made for him in activities that involve running and jumping.
Swimming, one thing he is allowed to do, has provided a great outlet.
“He has really excelled at swimming,” Stacy said. “He’s met some wonderful friends along the way … It’s been wonderful to watch him grow in the water and as a person.”
Will was advised by his orthopedic oncologist to not dive off the blocks like other competitors, so he dives off the side of the pool. Diving off the blocks is key to a race, because it propels you a greater distance, but Will does not let that stop him. He adapts, overcomes and walks away a champion.
The DesJean family comes to Riley about every four months for Will’s scans and oncology appointments. While it might get a little easier every time, the anxiety and fear never truly go away, which is why they’ve relied heavily on their faith during this time.
Stacy said they have had wonderful support from their church and youth group, who come over to pray before surgeries and always send encouraging texts before scans. Recently, Will made a huge decision to get baptized.
The church and community have also lifted up Will’s sisters, Ella and Claire, who worry about their brother.
During the pandemic, the number of visitors was limited, so Ella and Claire were not able to see their brother in the hospital. They would only see him when he came home for short periods of time.
“It was very hard for them,” Stacy said. “They would see him kind of at his lowest from all the side effects of chemo.”
Now, they are grateful to spend time with their brother, and this most recent swim meet allowed them to see him at his peak rather than at his low.
Stacy says that Will’s cancer will always be a part of their family's story and has taught them many lessons.
“The fight against osteosarcoma may never be over, but William will always win.”