Becoming ‘Porterstrong’

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After three days of tests, it was certain: cancer. At 15 years old, Porter Thorkelson was in shock.

Three days earlier, Porter was like every other teenager practicing with his rugby team. He was laughing, playing and hanging out with his friends. His only complaint was a swollen ankle that had been there for a few months.

The doctor came into the room. The results were unclear, but a trip to the radiologist shed new light on the swollen ankle. X-ray, biopsy, MRI, blood tests — it was Ewing’s Sarcoma, a rare bone cancer. This meant critical life changes for Porter. It meant chemotherapy; it meant no more hair; it meant no more rugby; it meant no right leg.

Porter Thorkelon with BYU rugby player Mikey Su’a after the 2012 National Championship game. (Photo courtesy Jared Thorkelson)

After a positron emission tomography (PET) scan and bone marrow test, Porter was lucky. His cancer had not reached his chest or his lungs. Porter had a 70 percent chance of survival. Chemo started and the hair fell, but Porter rose up.

“He never once complained about it, or said, ‘Why me,'” Jared Thorkelson, Porter’s dad, said.

Porter was strong. He remembered a school assembly months ago about cancer, but now it was real. He had the cancer and he needed to fight it.

While the BYU rugby team was at the Primary Children’s Hospital doing activities with the children, they heard about a Cougar rugby fan named Porter. They instantly ran down to the car for a rugby ball, but when they came back Porter was gone for tests. But since then, Porter has become more than just another BYU rugby fan to the team.

“Rugby is just a game, but the battles he is going through in his life, I look up to Porter,” Mikey Su’a of the BYU rugby team said.

When the rugby team won the National Championship game on May 19, 2012, Su’a was awarded the MVP award, and Porter was right there celebrating with the team.

“During that time, Porter didn’t have a lot of happy days,” Jared Thorkelson said. “I remember Mikey. There were a lot of people trying to get to him (after the championship game), but he held them off and he saw Porter and then pulled him right in. He let Porter hold the MVP trophy and take some pictures. Porter was beaming.”

The happy moments were there and Porter made the most of them, and many of them came with the rugby team.

It was August 2012, five months since his diagnosis, that changed his life. Five months of chemotherapy and five months of grueling tests. Porter was 16 and his leg would be amputated in less than a week. Porter was 16 and he wanted to drive.

“That morning I went and took my driving test,” Porter said. “With my leg all written on with things like tear here, or goodbye leg, and see you later leg … and I passed the test.”

Later that day he lost his right leg just below the knee. Another five months of chemo and everything would be over. His life had changed. He had changed, and he helped change many others in the process.

Life is not over for Porter. In fact a new life has just begun for him. He ended his treatments in mid-December, but his support for rugby still burns inside of him. Porter regularly attends the Lowland rugby practices to cheer his team on, the team he played for nearly a year ago.

“Right now I just really want to run,” Porter said.

The goal is set and the finish line is waiting with a rally of fans for a young man who have become “Porterstrong.”

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