Nol, the young man who has learned to fight cancer and has something to say

I met Nolan some time ago, unaware of what he had been enduring for years due to cancer. Nolan is 18 years old and was part of the team I met every Monday for sports. No one seemed to know anything about me and my experiences, and I knew nothing about them. We weren't there to talk about our lives, we were there to play sports.

I sincerely thought that here, at least, my child's cancer wouldn't catch up with me. It was a time when it didn't exist, a time when I was just Natalie, the girl who trains on Mondays.

Monday followed Monday.
Sometimes Nolan wasn't there, sometimes I was. That's the way it was, and we didn't ask questions.

So in summer 2019, I didn't notice that he hadn't been around for many weeks. The day I finally saw him again, I did notice that his face was very red. I naively thought he'd spent a little too long in the sun. In the mutual respect that reigned in this group, I didn't ask any questions.
Then I learned, from someone in the group who actually knew everything about my background and my role in Zoé4life, that Nolan had been battling cancer for years. He had just returned from several months of proton therapy at Villigen.
I then understood why her skin was so red, and made the connection with the family we had supported through Zoé4life.

I thought my child's cancer wouldn't catch up with me in this Monday class. I was wrong. It can be anywhere, and it can affect anyone. And I'm not at all sorry that it invited itself into this Monday class, because when I see what Nolan brings to the world around him, I feel honored to know a little more about him!

Nolan is a young man who has learned to fight cancer. He's also Nol, a young artist with something to say, and he says it through rap. Here's his story: 

"I'm sitting in this famous room on the 11th floor of the CHUV in Lausanne. The Department of Pediatric Oncology, a world no one would ever want to know. A world we hate, but also love. A place where I felt at home for several years. 

It's already been 3 months since our last visit. Once again the same room, once again I'm here with my father to get the results of my latest tests. I've lost count of the number of times we've crossed the walls of this hospital, taken this elevator and waited in this room, our stomachs churning in silence. 

What does my father think about in these moments? My thoughts escape to January 2019, sitting in this very room where I was told I had to start treatment again. After 5 years of remission, the cancer had returned. A doubt on examination led to a biopsy, which confirmed the diagnosis.

Was the battle going to be more complicated this time, knowing what it was like to fight cancer? But I was also older and more mature. Why should it be harder than the first time, after all? I'd made it through once, why not this time too? I was 17 now, and I wasn't going to give up anyway. 

So we started new chemotherapies, hair loss and hospital stays. My teenage life was put on hold once again. I tried as best I could to keep up with my apprenticeship as a pastry chef, despite the fatigue and the numerous hospitalizations. Then I spent 6 weeks in a center in Villigen. There I underwent a form of radiotherapy that burned my face. 

One day, I composed a sound and lyrics to thank my father for his support. Then another song where I address my cancer. 

It was through rap that I learned to express what I was going through.

The treatment became less intense after a year, and since then I've been trying to resume a normal life, the life I had before, while continuing a maintenance treatment with chemotherapy at home and a weekly appointment at the CHUV.

In spite of everything, I think I've always been optimistic and I hung in there to continue my training. I passed my apprenticeship and found a job.

I'm waiting for the doctor in this little room and I want to scream: NO, I don't want to go through this again. Cancer has taken enough years.

I "fell" into the world of cancer when I was 12.

This summer 2013, I was on vacation in France. I felt suffocated because I couldn't breathe properly. My eye was almost popping out of its socket. At the hospital, after a very long wait, I was told that I was homesick, but that it was nothing serious. When I think back... it was ridiculous. My grandmother was not reassured by these words and sent me back to Switzerland.

It didn't take long for the doctors at the medical center to tell me they'd seen something in my nose, and they booked me in for an appointment at the CHUV the next day. 

After several days of tests, the results came back. I have a tumor in my sinuses.

I spend 11 hours in the operating room for a major surgical procedure. Bone was removed from my leg to replace part of my frontal bone. I spend a week in intensive care, then another 5 days in the pediatric ward at floor that I'm discovering for the first time.

Three weeks after my return home, my mother woke me up one morning to tell me that we had to go back to the CHUV in a hurry.

The tests on the tumour have arrived. They confirm that it's more serious than expected. Doctors are collaborating with other doctors and consulting each other. My case was even seen by a specialist in the USA. The verdict was clear: I had to be treated with chemotherapy. My tumor is a cancer called Ewing's Sarcoma.

I was 12... and if I was a little afraid of dying, it was the loss of my hair that made me cry. Fortunately, the medical team was wonderful and I was very well looked after. My parents worked during the day, but took turns at night to spend the night with me.

I remember celebrating my birthday in hospital. I was hospitalized in the big room I shared with five other children. My mom brought 2 cakes and all the nurses came in singing happy birthday to me. They even gave me a present for which they had all made a contribution. I was very touched. 

At school, the teachers were very supportive and encouraging, even if the desire to work wasn't always there. 

After more than a year of treatment, the word remission was pronounced. The cancer had been knocked out, and I could get on with my life, alternating with check-ups at the CHUV. 

After 5 years without cancer, a patient is declared cured. At the last check-up, which was supposed to confirm that I was therefore cured, they saw something suspicious. 

And then it all started again!

I've seen children and teenagers on this ward over the years. How many have died? How many are cured? And at what cost? I consider myself lucky to have few after-effects. 

Today, I'm waiting for the doctor in this small room. When he opens the door, I watch for the slightest sign in his walk, in his face. Last time, the big folder that is my file was under his arm. Not this time. Is this a good sign? Or a bad sign? 

The tests are good! Phew, I'm still ahead of the cancer. I know that every 3 months I'll be back, and that while one battle is won, the war is never over when you're fighting cancer.

But until I know what tomorrow holds, I'm going to live as cancer taught me: day by day, without planning too much, and I'm going to love and share. Despite everything, like everyone else, I have my dreams: to get married, have children and become a gendarme.

They call me Nol, and I'm going to keep on writing rap so that I can pass on everything I have to say to others, so that they feel less alone and don't get discouraged by the difficulties they have to overcome."

Testimony collected and written by Natalie Guignard-Nardin
April 2021