He's never asked why me?. And surprisingly, he's not frightened. He's just apprehensive because he doesn't know what to expect. —John Forte
DRAPER — Cameron Forte had big plans for his senior year of high school, but a hospital bed and doctors and surgeries and a life-threatening illness and injury were not part of them. He was going to earn a football scholarship from Utah, Michigan, BYU or Stanford, who had each sent coaches to visit him. He was going to graduate. He was going serve an LDS Church mission. He was going to get a college education.
Then in the first game of the 2015 football season, playing running back for Corner Canyon High, he broke his femur. His femur? Who does that? It’s the upper bone in the thigh, the biggest bone in the body. A broken femur is a motorcycle accident injury, not a football injury. And given Forte’s size — 6-foot-1, 230 pounds — it seemed even more unlikely.
Surgeons repaired the break by inserting a titanium rod through the center of the bone.
The college recruiters disappeared. The calls, the visits, the letters, gone.
He was devastated, and yet things could’ve been worse — and then they were.
On April 1 — April Fools' Day — he returned to the doctor after complaining of pain in the area where the femur had been broken. The Fortes thought it was the result of the hardware that had been used to repair his leg. After examining X-rays, the doctor returned to the room in tears. “This looks bad,” she said, and then repeated herself. “This looks bad.”
They performed an MRI immediately. At 9:30 that night, the doctor called the Fortes with the results: She was almost certain it was cancer and ordered them to show up at the hospital the next morning for a biopsy. She told Cameron that when he woke up from the surgery, if there was a pic line in his wrist it was delivering antibiotics for an infection; if there was no pic line, he had cancer.
“I woke up from surgery and looked at my arms and thought, great,” says Cameron.
No pic line.
A short time later, his parents — John and Kim — entered the room to deliver the news — “the hardest thing I’ve ever done,” says John — but his son saved them the trouble. “Dad, I have cancer, don’t I?” Cameron said.
“Yes, but we’re going to get through this,” his father replied, and then they held one another in a long embrace.
The doctors entered the room to explain the disease and the course of action, but the Fortes barely heard them because they were still trying to process the news. Entire lives had been reshaped in a matter of minutes.
On April 10, the Draper 10th Ward held a fast for Cameron and gathered for prayer near the end of Sunday meetings. The Corner Canyon football and lacrosse teams, as well as family friends, filled the chapel and back into the gym that doubles as an overflow room.
Cameron was a rock as he addressed the congregation for three and a half minutes. “I’m so humbled by all the love that's been given and shown to me,” he said quietly. “I wake up every morning feeling more comforted and confident that it’s going to be OK.”
His teammates will shave their heads and his classmates will wear bracelets with his name on them. The girls in the school's dance company shaved the back of their heads and danced with #31 written on their shoulders. People do what they can do — Utah coach Kyle Whittingham was among his visitors at the hospital — but no one can fight the battle for Cameron, although his parents wish they could. The battle with cancer began the day after the church meeting. He will undergo 9-12 months of chemotherapy. He will spend several days at a time hooked up to an IV that will deliver the chemo to his body through a port in his chest directly to his heart. The plan is to shrink the tumor with chemo, then remove the tumor and, if necessary, replace the entire femur with an artificial bone.
Ewing sarcoma is what they call it — a form of bone cancer that usually strikes the long bones of the body, usually in teenagers or younger. If you’re wondering if there’s any causal relationship between the broken femur and the cancer, you’re not the only one, although researchers say there is none. "That's the big question," says John.
Corner Canyon football coach Don Eck told KSL last fall that in 32 years as a football player and coach he has never seen a broken femur on the gridiron. No one ever suspected a broken femur at the time — the ambulance didn’t even come out onto the field to get him. He was helped up and limped to the sideline with a teammate under each arm. That was a mistake that could’ve killed him; because the bone was displaced, the sharp, separated ends were sawing against each other and could have severed the femoral artery, which runs the length of the bone. If that had happened, he could have bled out in minutes.
Cameron, who had prepared all summer for football, recovered from his disappointment and began to prepare for a Mormon Church mission. He received his call to serve a French-speaking mission in Benin, a tiny African country wedged between Nigeria and Togo. Three weeks later the cancer was discovered and another dream dashed.
“He is on the Lord’s errand right now,” says John. “He can be in no better position. He’s entitled to blessings.”
John thinks they already received one of them. Initially, it was believed the cancer had spread to Cameron’s lungs, but further tests revealed it has confined itself to the bone so far.
“He’s gone from a survival rate of 30 percent to 56 percent,” says John.
It's been a star-crossed senior year for Cameron, but from the start of his troubles he kept his feet moving like the running back he is. He pulled a 4.0 grade point average and completed his Duty to God and Eagle Scout awards.
"He's never asked why me?" says John. "And surprisingly, he's not frightened. He's just apprehensive because he doesn't know what to expect."
Meanwhile, Cameron and his family are comforted by the support of their community. “You can physically feel the prayers when you’re on this end of it — and I’ve never been on this end of it,” he says. “It’s a tangible thing.”
Doug Robinson's columns run on Tuesdays and Wednesdays. Email: [email protected]