Cancer kicked him, but he kicked back
RANTOUL — Tim Rivest felt like he'd been socked in the stomach.
He'd hardly been sick a day in his life, but he knew he'd better get to the hospital after coughing up blood for two days and experiencing lower back pain.
Tests done last October at Carle Foundation Hospital, Urbana, revealed what no one wants to hear: cancer. In this case, testicular cancer.
Even worse, the cancer was advanced to stage 3C.
"The highest stage" for that type of cancer, Rivest's wife, Heather, said.
X-rays of his lungs revealed numerous tumors.
A Rantoul patrol officer — a man who was sworn to protect and to serve — was going to have to put his life in the hands of others.
He did, and they delivered.
After eight months of treatment and recovery, Rivest, 29, is back on the job he loves. He returned to full-time duty as a patrol officer June 25.
The next year will be crucial.
"Dr. (Lawrence) Einhorn said the first year is a big year," Tim Rivest said. "If you don't have a recurrence the first year, you can pretty much close the book on my case.
"And if it comes back, we'll deal with it and we'll fight as hard as we have to fight to beat it again and keep going."
Rivest's ordeal began Oct. 22 when he was diagnosed.
After he underwent surgery to remove his bad testicle, the following day he began the VIP type of chemotherapy, under the direction of Dr. Chunfeng Zhang at Carle. Rivest said that is the same type of chemo that champion bicycle racer Lance Armstrong went through.
Rivest underwent four rounds of chemo that included five days of treatment that each lasted six to eight hours — one week on and then two off until the first part of January.
"Then they waited a month before they did any blood work and any more imaging," Rivest said.
Following treatment, however, one of two tumor markers (markers are gauged to determine whether any cancer remained) was still too high and continued to rise as the weeks passed.
Zhang referred Rivest to Einhorn at Indiana University Melvin and Bren Simon Cancer Center in Indianapolis.
"He said my only option was a high dose of chemo with a bone marrow transplant," Rivest said.
Rivest was given medicine to mass-produce stem cells, which were collected and then frozen. He then received chemotherapy, and on the third day received the stem cell treatment.
The treatment knocked him out and was quite painful.
His loved ones suffered along with him.
"The hardest part was seeing Tim down and out in a hospital bed so sick," his wife said. "He hardly was ever sick before he was diagnosed, and to see him like that, it was hard."
The treatment and then recovery period continued from February to mid-April. After his final treatment, Rivest remained at the Indianapolis facility for 20 days.
By then, "the nausea and vomiting (from the treatment) had dissipated," Rivest said. "I was feeling pretty good. I was still getting tired at the end of the day. The more time has gone on, the better I feel."
Rivest said he feels he is 100 percent now.
Heather Rivest called the experience "a roller coaster of emotions."
"It's been a long road," she said. "When he was diagnosed, it puts you in shock at first. It was hard to hear that your spouse has cancer. All kinds of thoughts go racing through your mind. It's a scary feeling."
But both Tim and Heather Rivest said they have received a great deal of love and support from the Rantoul Police Department and Rantoul community.
He said he can relate to those suffering from the disease.
During an interview, Rivest showed a blue bracelet that he wears on his right arm. Cory Wagner — a youngster from Rantoul who also battled cancer — gave it to him. It reads "Cancer fears me."
Rivest was among those present when Cory was feted as an honorary Wal-Mart driver for a day in November — a month after Rivest was diagnosed. Cory made sure to greet Rivest because he knew what he was going through. Cory died on July 10.
"When we see the (outpouring) of love and support from the community, the Rantoul Police Department and from all our friends and family and from other people from all over, it definitely gave us the strength and hope to get us through this hardship," Heather Rivest said.
Just a few of the examples of the support for Rivest include a fund collection by the police department; a Senior Survivor event at Rantoul Township High School that raised $4,600; and a benefit fellowship ride by Hogs in Ministry, a Christian motorcycle group.
Heather Rivest also credits faith for her husband's comeback.
"We give God all the glory," she said. "We definitely see life a little differently. We appreciate life a little more. It has shown us not to take anything for granted.
"I just want people to know that with God all things are possible, that there is hope and to never give up, and have faith."
Tim Rivest said "there is no doubt" that having cancer will change your life.
He said it helped for him to put things into perspective, to realize that family is the most important thing in life.
He and his wife have one son, Brayden, who is 3.
Rivest said he probably will not be able to have any more children due to the extent of his treatment, but nothing is certain.
Rivest's experience also opened his eyes to how many people are going through what he did.
"Before I got diagnosed I never had any idea how many lives had been affected by cancer," Rivest said. "Probably everybody I talk to has a close friend or family member who has been affected by cancer. It's a really nasty disease. It takes so many lives every year."