TOWNSEND — Phil Dwyer is going to graduate with his classmates this spring.
For that, his mother Kathy Dantas-Dwyer, sends a giant “thank you” to the North Middlesex Regional School District.
“The community has been so awesome,” she said.
Graduating from high school is a rite of passage, one that most teens accomplish with varying degrees of difficulty, angst and joy.
For Phil, the journey has encompassed facing an incurable disease, bone cancer. Not once, but twice.
Diagnosed with bone cancer in his leg in 2013, Phil went through surgery and chemotherapy. He was cancer-free with a wonderful prognosis, his mother said.
In July, to the doctors’ surprise, the cancer returned in his hip and his back. “They can’t take it out. There’s no cure,” Dantas-Dwyer said.
The diagnosis is not stopping the high school senior. “It’s something we have to incorporate in our lives,” she said. “We make it part of our lives, not the center.”
Phil is being treated at Boston Children’s Hospital and the Jimmy Fund Clinic. “They’re like an extended family,” she said. “He loves all of them. He knows them.”
North Middlesex was quick to adjust his schedule and amend his requirements so that he can graduate on time.
“He goes to school when he is not in treatment,” Dantas-Dwyer said. “He gets in there when he can.”
His schedule usually calls for him to be in school for a partial day. He has a pillow to ease the pain of sitting. Teachers adjusted his homework assignments so that he never does any busy-work, his mother said.
The accommodations are only a part of what the district has done for the family. The students and staff have basically told the family, “Whatever you need, you let us know,” Dantas-Dwyer said. “It’s been very nice.”
Many of the things the school has done came as a surprise to the family. For instance, the principal included a link to Phil’s GoFundMe page in his newsletter.
Phil was an excellent pole vaulter and sprinter his freshman year, his mother said. The track coach made bracelets that said “Do it for Dwyer.” The team donated money for gas cards to help cover the cost of the frequent trips to Boston.
The football team put together a fundraiser. “Out of the blue we got a check,” Dantas-Dwyer said. “No one tells us, really, we just find out.”
His mother and his father, Steve Dwyer, are able to adjust their work schedules around Phil’s needs. “Luckily, there’s two of us and we share,” she said.
His older brother, Joe, is a junior at the University of Massachusetts in Amherst.
Phil wants to be a game warden, but his college and career plans have been modified. Because of the surgery and the cancer, he can’t do all the training required, Dantas-Dwyer said.
Instead, Phil will go to Unity College in Maine, where he got early admission. He will be in the wildlife and fishery management program.
“He loves it there,” Dantas-Dwyer said. The school is familiar. He went to camp there after his diagnosis.
Like other high school seniors, Phil has more than school on his plate. His Eagle Scout project is in the planning stages, pending final approval.
Of the disease, his mother said: “It’s not going to stop him.”
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