East Xtra: Trinity senior conquers a lethal foe

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It was May 16, 2011, when 14-year-old Wes Lavrinc heard a three-word phrase he hoped he'd never have to hear in his life:

"You have cancer."

But through a supportive group of family and friends and a strong belief in God, Lavrinc, a Penn Hills resident, persevered through the chemotherapy treatments and is now a three-sport athlete at Trinity Christian School, a private, faith-based school in Forest Hills.

"At first, it was really scary," Lavrinc said of initially hearing his diagnosis. "But I'm a really strong Christian and I had my family and my church praying for me. I just left it up to God, left it in his hands, and didn't worry about it."

It all started the previous Thursday, May 12, 2011, when Lavrinc discovered that his left testicle was much larger than his right.

He told his mother, Kim, this information immediately. Kim Lavrinc, a nurse at Presbyterian Hospital who also teaches University of Pittsburgh nursing students, told her son she wanted to examine it, to which Wes agreed.

Wes' consent made Kim more nervous.

"When he said OK, my heart sank," Kim Lavrinc said. "A 14-year-old boy wouldn't usually want to show his mother that area of the body, so I knew then that it must have been serious."

They immediately scheduled an appointment with Wes' pediatrician, who said he could rule out everything except testicular cancer. But the doctor didn't want to diagnose it because it was so rare for someone that young to have that form of cancer.

Three days later, however, at Children's Hospital, an ultrasound confirmed the family's worst fear.

"It was nerve-wrecking because I was always so active and healthy," Wes Lavrinc said.

But he didn't have to look far for inspiration. Two years earlier, Kim Lavrinc had been diagnosed with ovarian cancer. After six rounds of chemotherapy, Kim's cancer went into remission.

She said her experience helped her know how to assist her son.

"In my head, I was thinking that this is the reason God gave me cancer," Kim Lavrinc said. "God made me go through it, so I can help Wesley get through it and be OK."

Due to the fact that the cancer was found very early and had not spread throughout his body, Wes Lavrinc would need only two rounds of chemotherapy, set a month apart in June and July.

But first he needed to have surgery, which was set for May 18, 2011.

With the trauma of the news he received and the upcoming surgery, Lavrinc would have been forgiven for missing school that Tuesday in between. But he wanted to let his fellow students know the truth.

"He wanted to go to school and let everyone know," Kim Lavrinc said. "He stood up in front of his homeroom class and told them he had testicular cancer and asked them to pray for him.

"Kids were crying and it was Wesley who was going around comforting them. You would have thought they would have been comforting him.

"He just showed so much maturity."

The surgery and the chemotherapy looked as if it would prevent Lavrinc from playing baseball for his Penn Hills summer travel baseball team. He played with most of the kids on the team since he was 5 years old.

But the team's coach, Buck Bonnett, made sure to let Lavrinc know that he was always a part of the team and welcome to come to the games, where he would often be able to coach third base.

To show additional support, the entire team shaved its head. And finally, when Lavrinc was eating better and getting stronger from the steroids he was taking after his final round of chemotherapy, he threw a few pitches in the team's final game.

"I was sick of staying inside," Lavrinc said. "I wasn't feeling great, but I wanted to go play and I'm glad I did. I've been playing with those kids for nine years and I just wanted to play with them again."

In the fall of 2011, Lavrinc played soccer for Trinity Christian for the first time, and he admitted he didn't have the strength or endurance needed after his battle with cancer.

He also played basketball and ran track for Trinity Christian, and played travel baseball in the summer again (Trinity Christian doesn't have a baseball team).

The next season, he continued to play all three school sports -- he gave up summer baseball -- and was named the school's student athlete of the year.

Now a 5-foot-10, 150-pound senior, Lavrinc is having his best athletic year yet. He was an all-section defender in soccer and is leading the basketball team in scoring at close to 15 points per game.

He has been especially hot on the court lately, scoring 29 points Feb. 1 against Imani Christian and pouring in 18 last Friday against Winchester Thurston in a win that helped seal up a postseason berth for the Falcons.

Trinity will play Vincentian Academy (20-2), the No. 2 seed, at 8 p.m. Friday at Fox Chapel Area High School.

"He's been a really good player for us," Trinity Christian boys basketball coach Paul Walendziewicz said. "He's also very even-keeled. He doesn't let ups and downs bother him. He had 29 points in the Imani Christian win and we won by 11 points, but he was still pretty low key."

That attitude helped Lavrinc through his darkest hour. He still goes to the doctor every four months to get blood drawn to check for cancer markers. He also gets chest X-rays and a CT scan performed each year, too, to make sure his cancer is still in remission.

But so far, Lavrinc has come out of the ordeal without any traces of the cancer left behind and a new perspective on life.

"For me, I've just learned that I can persevere through anything," Lavrinc said. "A lot of things are thrown your way in life, and they can seem overwhelming. But I'm just letting God take care of it while I live my life."

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