Joel Dorval

Family stays strong when faced with cancer

Joel Dorval, 10, was diagnosed with leukemia at six years old

When Michelle Dorval learned her six year old son had cancer, everything that followed — hospital visits, treatment and even the diagnosis — was a “whirlwind.”

Sooke resident, Joel Dorval, now 10, was diagnosed with leukemia two weeks after his sixth birthday party.

According to Michelle, the family received at call at nine p.m. at night, telling the family to go straight to the hospital in Victoria. They stayed the night and were airlifted to Children’s Hospital in Vancouver where treatment began almost immediately.

“It was a whirlwind,” said the mother of five.

That fateful evening would prove to be a prolonged series of lumbar punctures and needles over a three-and-a-half year period. He remained at Children’s Hospital for a month, and then continued treatment in both Victoria and Vancouver.

“He was on high dose treatment (chemotherapy) for the first eight months, and then they go on to maintenance. Then after it’s a little less, it’s still pretty intense, but it’s a little less.”

Although undergoing intensive treatment, Joel, then six, remained cheeky and clever, stealing the birthdays of family members to fast-forward the four years of treatment that laid ahead.

“When he was sick, we told him he had almost four years of treatment, so he went on the calendar one day and crossed out all of our birthdays and stole them as his own,” said Michelle.

“It was the cutest — for a six year old to go cross out everybody’s birthday and make it so that he would be [older].”

Although in good spirits, it was clear how difficult emotionally, physically, financially and mentally it was for the family.

“I cried every night,” said Joel’s younger, eight-year-old sister, Jessica.

Teary eyed, she added, “I thought he was going to die.”

The pronouncement caused Michelle’s eyes to well with tears, but she remained positive, as strong mothers do.

“He didn’t,” she responded, with a smile.

Despite the challenges, Michelle said her family worked together to sustain normalcy in the household.

“You just had to do what you had to do. My husband and I just worked together as a team,” she said.

“I learned really quick that if you don’t put a smile on your face and continue on then everybody around you starts to crumble.” 

Now, Joel has been given a clean bill of health and entered the Grade 6 at Journey middle school this September. His favourite subjects are math, gym and art, and, although they’re not technically subjects, lunch and recess.

Going in and out of hospitals, Joel said he understands the hardships faced by children who undergo cancer treatment. He hopes to one day build a super hospital where kids can have fun and get better at the same time.

When asked what amenities the hospital would have, Joel said, “free movies, free candy, free everything, free medicines.” He also added there would be a movie theatre.

But it doesn’t end there, as Joel also hopes to develop a “magic pill” that will instantly cure cancer.

“Joel’s really about wanting to save other kids and help them,” Michelle said.

He’ll be joining the Cops for Cancer Tour de Rock as a junior rider to Saanich News media rider, Kyle Slavin and Const. Steven Martindale when they pass through Sooke on Oct. 3.

This will be Joel’s fourth year as a junior rider.

When speaking about the men and women who ride to find a cure, Joel said he admires them, “because they raise money for kids to help them not have cancer anymore.”

The riders will embark on a 14-day cycling journey spanning across Vancouver Island on Sept. 22.

Tour de Rock raises money for pediatric cancer research and programming for children with or who have had a history with cancer.