A Maine teenager living with terminal brain cancer has graduated from high school.
Ethan Lussier, 18, of Lewiston, is a high school graduate after a struggle through school harder than just about anyone's.
Lussier is bedridden in hospice care. Amazingly, he was able to realize one last dream — with help from a friend and his school.
"Determination and motivation, which is exactly what Ethan had," said Vicki Saunders, the teen's mother. "Ethan earning his diploma, he's responsible for that."
She says the toughest part of being by her son's side as his health declines is feeling helpless.
Troy Ouelette, Ethan's stepfather, who met him after his first battle with cancer at age 9, says lack of mobility and spunk is very out of character.
"Believe me, he'd do what he wants," said Ouelette.
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Lussier did, through ages 8 to 13, when he was mostly cancer free. Then the tumors came back, and they stayed.
Lussier went through chemotherapy, radiation, seizures, neurological damage, had to relearn to walk and talk, but at the same time, he completed years of high school and developed a love for "the rap god" Eminem.
A letter to the rapper from Ethan reads in part:
"Hey Slim, my name is Ethan and I am 12. I'm a huge fan of your music. The reason why I like your music is I feel angry oftentimes and your music makes me feel like I'm not alone," he wrote in a letter to the rapper. "I think being a famous rapper is the way to go because it doesn't require as much schooling."
Yet Lussier did pretty well in school, getting a 92 in chemistry, 99 in music and another A+ in creative writing.
All that was missing and preventing him from graduation were a few credits for his senior year.
Right after Labor Day, a brain hemorrhage forced Lussier to be bedridden.
Inoperable tumors were found in March, and a short time later, he was put into hospice care at the Androscoggin Hospice House.
It was at that point that a close friend spoke up to administrators at Lewiston High School with a meaningful request — that Lussier be allowed to graduate.
"His friend, Jordyn Cunningham, went into the school and asked how she could make that happen for him, and explained why she felt he earned it," said Saunders. "I got a phone call from the assiatant principal and asked if they had my permission to come in and present him with it. I said absolutely."
Tuesday, Lussier's room was transformed into an auditorium, with the graduate taking center stage to receive his high school diploma, becoming only the second person on his father's side of the family to do so.
That diploma sits proudly by his bed as proof that hard work, a few friends, a little rap music and a smile really can make dreams come true.
"He asked, 'Did I graduate today?'" Saunders explained. "I said, 'Yes, you absolutely did.'"