Evan Lavigne was part of tight-knit units, both as a high school hockey player and a member of the United States Coast Guard. And when the 24-year-old learned in January that he had lymphoma – just one week before entering the police academy – teammates were there to support him.
Lavigne, already a conditional member of his hometown police force in Taunton, Mass., put his academy training on hold during six months of chemotherapy treatment at Dana-Farber. Fellow Taunton officers, along with members of the city’s fire department – including his father – hosted a charity hockey game in May that raised more than $13,000 to cover Lavigne’s living expenses. Police colleagues have allowed him to accompany them on patrol, and let him know his job is waiting for him.
“I’m used to doing things myself, but when you give others the opportunity to be kind to you, it really opens your eyes,” says Lavigne, who received an honorable discharge from the Coast Guard after four years to become a police officer. “I’m extremely grateful for the support people have given me. It helps me feel strong.”
Strength has always been a Lavigne hallmark; despite infusions every two weeks for six months, he has never missed a day in the gym. Knowing he needed to stay fit for a new police academy report date in September, he continued playing hockey, both with a men’s club team and in practices at his alma mater, Coyle and Cassidy High School in Taunton. Now training at the Plymouth Police Academy, he plans to join the Taunton Police Department in March.
“If your platelet count is low during treatment, you have an increased chance of bleeding, and we would recommend not playing contact sports,” explains Hematologic Oncology Nurse Practitioner Barbara Virchick, MS, APRN-BC, who oversees Lavigne’s care along with Eric Jacobsen, MD. “Evan is in great shape, which has helped keep his counts up. He is so determined to get through this and get to the academy. We are thrilled.”
Even though he often faced challenges like search and rescue missions while in the Coast Guard, Lavigne says his cancer experience has given him a new appreciation for life. High school friends and fellow Guardsmen have reached out, and his cousin Ryan Jones even created a gas mask logo with the motto “Keeping in the Good, Keeping out the Bad” that was used on team jerseys in the charity hockey game.
The first day he practiced at his high school this past winter, Lavigne’s old hockey coach asked him to speak to the current team. “A few months before, I probably would have just told them to play their hearts out,” Lavigne says. “But now I told them that the most important thing in life is to treasure your health, take care of each other, and enjoy being part of a brotherhood.”