When Eric Dorchester was told he would have one week before he was going to lose his left leg from the knee down, one of the first things he did was ask his older brother to teach him how to drive standard.
“I thought, I might as well go do that, since I won’t be able to after the surgery,” the 21-year-old South Surrey resident said.
Nearly three years since he was diagnosed with osteogenic sarcoma – the same cancer B.C. hero Terry Fox had – and one year since losing his leg, Dorchester admits there are still a few things he can’t do, but that list is far shorter than a list of what he has achieved.
After spending months learning how to walk with his prosthetic leg, Dorchester took his rehabilitation to another level by relearning how to snowboard, wakeboard and even rock climb.
“Once you start rehab, you’re in that mindset of ‘OK, let’s get started and get back to normal.’ Now, other than being able to sprint, I’m just as mobile as ever. I don’t know if I would go back and change it at all. It’s probably made me a better person,” he said.
“I enjoy breaking barriers and pushing my limit. I don’t feel like I’m happy or accomplishing something unless I’m equal or better than the average person.”
The positive outlook of the Earl Marriott grad has not only carried him through his initial diagnosis at age 18, while he was in his first year at the University of Victoria, but has helped him deal with the latest setback of the cancer returning and spreading to his lungs.
“I found out two years to the day of when I was first diagnosed. Statistically, this time it’s a 50/50 per cent chance, but I don’t like to see it that way. Every situation is different. So if you have a good attitude about it, it can really help,” he said.
Through his experience dealing with cancer and losing his leg, Dorchester has inadvertently taken on a leadership role, offering guidance to those going through similar situations or dispelling common misconceptions about amputees.
With the help of his mentor, Surrey resident Kim Kuczko – who also had osteogenic sarcoma and lost her left leg – Dorchester is now looking to speak at schools and share his story.
“I was interested in public speaking before, but I had to cast it aside when I moved home from UVIC to go to chemo. Now it’s kind of like two birds with one stone, because I can practice speaking in public and also educate people,” he said. “I’m sure everybody would surprise themselves with the attitude they would have once they found out (they had cancer).
“You realize what kind of person you are from it. I think a lot of people would surprise themselves with their positive attitude.”
Dorchester’s family, including brother, Guy, who is the general manager at White Spot Restaurant in Morgan Crossing, have also come onboard with spreading awareness and support for those diagnosed with cancer. Last month, Guy organized a fundraiser benefitting the Canadian Cancer Society’s Relay For Life, which is set for Friday night in Centennial Park, 6 p.m. to 6 a.m.
With servers donating tips and donations from patrons at the restaurant, Guy and his staff brought in $1,746.35, bringing their fundraising total to more than $6,700.
“My brother has been the best. He has been so supportive, doing anything he can for me,” Dorchester said.
While he is unable to participate in the relay due to the chemotherapy he recently underwent, Dorchester will be on hand at the Relay For Life, helping organizers and catching up with friends in the community.
And while he is maintaining his positive attitude, Dorchester said he won’t be wasting any time checking off his to-do list.
In a few weeks time, he and Guy will be heading on a trip to Asia.
“I’ve always told myself I should live each day like it’s my last. But it can be hard to get into that mindset. You can just get sort of stuck into pushing things off until later,” he said. “One of the pros to being told you might die is that you would definitely get those things done.
“I’ve been forcing myself to go out and do more and engage with more people. Hopefully, I’ll be able to continue doing that when I’m all clear.”