A young Orillia baseball player is battling leukemia, but he isn’t fighting alone.
Dylan Gervais, 18, was born in Kansas City, Mo., and was raised in Penetanguishene. When he was 12, Gervais found his love for baseball and began playing with the Midland Twins.
“With the sport of baseball, I love the happiness and joy it brings to me along with the ability to be with a lot of my friends,” he explained.
On April 1 of this year, Gervais was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia. A day later, his spleen ruptured resulting in an emergency splenectomy that put him in the critical care unit at Sunnybrook Hospital for several days before transferring back to the cancer ward.
“This has been a life-changing situation,” Gervais said, noting the medical emergency has caused him to miss out on what was supposed to be one of the best years of his life.
“My graduation from high school, prom, going to post-secondary school in the fall, summertime events with my friends, concerts, days at the beach and, of course, baseball. Everything has either been eliminated or drastically modified," he said.
The Georgian Bay District Secondary School student had a potential scholarship opportunity lined up in New York before being diagnosed with leukemia. He has also been accepted to Brock University and Sheridan College, both in kinesiology programs, which he cannot accept under his current circumstance.
“The leukemia treatment program I'm on, Dana Farber is the name of it, is very structured with many different phases of treatments,” he explained. “It’s two years long, a long time, but is very successful. So, things need to be put on hold in my life right now.”
Also on hold is Gervais' passion for playing baseball. This year he was set to play with the 18U Royals in Orillia.
“The treatment program I'm on requires a Hickman Line put in my chest,” he explained. “It's an IV port that goes directly into a main artery that allows for chemotherapy treatments and better access to my bloodstream.”
If Gervais played baseball while being hooked up to the Hickman Line, he would be putting his life in danger. The line could shift and rupture the side of his artery, doctors have warned. On top of that, he simply doesn’t have the energy to compete in sports.
“Leukemia and chemotherapy treatments are very tiresome,” he said. “I have very little energy afterward. It eventually gets better, just in time for the next treatment.”
During the 18U Royals opening weekend last month, Gervais was with his teammates to throw out the ceremonial first pitch.
“I will remember that for the rest of my life,” he said. “It was very emotional.”
Gervais says being on the diamond and getting to play for even a single pitch was the best feeling in the world.
“Being able to be on the field with my teammates even though it was for only one pitch, was awesome,” he said. “I got to walk off the field on my terms so to speak.”
Gervais plans on attending as many games and practices as his body allows this summer.
“My dad has been my coach for many years in both hockey and baseball," he explained. "So, I'm joining him and the rest of the coaching staff to help guide the boys to our goal this year which is an Ontario championship."
Gervais says it's tough for him mentally, knowing that he can't step up to the plate to hit, or climb the mound to pitch, but he is excited for the opportunity to be a part of the team and help his teammates get better.
When he’s not at the diamond this summer, Gervais will be at Sunnybrook Hospital once a week receiving various chemo treatments.
“So far I'm winning the battle,” he said. “My latest bone marrow biopsy results were very positive, and I've been declared to be in remission.”
Unfortunately, acute lymphoblastic leukemia can move very fast, so Gervais still has to be very diligent and stay the course until the end of his treatments.
“In the end, I like my chances of living a pretty normal life and getting my hair back,” he said with a laugh.
Gervais thanks all of his friends, family, and teammates who have been with him every step of the way on his journey.
“I want to send a very special thank you to my girlfriend, Alycia Golding, my best friend Mitchell Ingram, and his family along with my mom and dad who have been there with me since the day it all started," he said.