Beating Leukemia

Sickness, accidents, mourning: all part of life. How can we confront the storm and learn to live again when these challenges shake our daily life? One young Quebecker, Jean-Gilles Gadoury, tells his story of fighting against the odds. An inspiring message that may help you get through your own troubled waters.

By Véronique Trudeau

His diagnosis of acute myeloid leukemia came when he was just 9 years old. This cancer of the blood and of the bone marrow is very aggressive. Chances of survival are poor.

His mother’s Facebook search for a bone marrow donor bore fruit: over 15,000 shares later, a compatible donor turned up.

Sadly, one year after the transplant, the cancer returned again. A second transplant was deemed necessary. For three years, this Bedford native was confined to hospital, separated from family and friends. Yet neither sickness nor boredom could wipe Jean-Gilles’ legendary smile from his lips.

Jean-Gilles Gadoury.
Photo: Maxime Tremblay

Today, Jean-Gilles is 15 and leads an almost normal life. On January 4th, 2021, he got quite a shock when his doctor said he didn’t need a medical follow-up until 2022. After 7 years of living with the Sword of Damocles hanging over his head, he’s accepting his reprieve with clear-headed calm. Above all, he’s focusing all his positive energy on his life one day at a time.

“It’s certain that it’s my illness that taught me to live in the present moment, to appreciate the little things, especially the things I missed out on in hospital. Only my mother was authorized to visit me. When I can hug my family, sleep with my cat and see my friends, I get very emotional. But also, being isolated saved my life.”

During those long days of solitude at the Montreal Children’s Hospital, Jean-Gilles cultivated his passion for science by reading and watching documentaries. He also sang and danced through the corridors. He’s very aware that without his innate joie de vivre, his positive attitude and his steely morale, he’d have never made it through.

Music, friends, family and hospital staff were morale boosters along the way. “I feel immense gratitude for all those who stood behind me,” he says. “I didn’t fight alone, I had an army at my side. Not to mention those who encouraged me over social media.”

No surprise that the Children’s Miracle Network, who raise funds for children’s hospitals across North America, gave him their trophy for resilience. “For me, resilience means never giving up, and seeing the beautiful even in your hardships.”

He lives every day as if it’s his last. He’d like to follow in the footsteps of his idol, astronaut Chris Hadfield, who he met in 2019. Like Hadfield, Jean-Gilles would like to combine his scientific knowledge with his artistic gifts. When the time comes for his flight, he’d like to sing the song Il est où le bonheur in space, while playing guitar, with the stars in the background.

Whether it’s cruiging amid the starry skies above or walking on the ground below his feet, Jean-Gilles has a gift for finding nuggets of happiness wherever he goes. And his happiness is contagious.  

First published in Reflet de Société magazine, vol. 29, no. 3, April 2021, pages 13 – 14  

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