Column: Playing for Nicolas

by Kelsey Hausman

Olivier Viel was at a tennis tournament in France when he received a call from his parents around 11:00 p.m. He answered with a “hi,” but they responded with only silence. His mother began to cry and in that moment he knew the doctors had given them bad news.

His younger and only sibling, just 12 years old, had been diagnosed with a rare and aggressive form of cancer.

A week after his diagnosis, Nicolas started intensive chemotherapy.

(Photo: Olivier Viel)

(Photo: Olivier Viel)

Olivier’s life became a routine of waking up, going to school, then spending four hours in the hospital keeping Nicolas company while also trying to complete some homework. Family dinner usually consisted of cafeteria meals resting on their laps while they watched TV.

Nicolas didn’t have the energy for anything else; he was barely able to sleep with two needles pushed into his lungs and six machines plugged into him constantly pumping him with chemicals.

Olivier went from practicing tennis every day to squeezing in sessions once or twice a week with friends. Tennis became a temporary escape from the heartbreaking reality of his brother’s disease.

His dreams of becoming an NCAA athlete in the United States were put on hold.

After eight months of chemotherapy, Nicolas had a 16-hour reconstructive surgery on his tibia to remove the remaining cancerous mass. But when he awoke from anesthesia, medical staff were unable to control his pain, vomiting, fevers, and problems breathing.

Nicolas, unable to eat, had to be nourished by nurses injecting vitamins into his veins and pushing feeding tubes down his nose into his stomach.

Olivier watched as his brother lay like a corpse in his hospital bed. Tired of seeing Nicolas suffer he yearned to take his place and stop him from feeling pain. At this point he was completely removed from his dreams of playing college tennis.

When Nicolas became stable enough, more rounds of intensive chemotherapy began. Four months later, doctors officially declared him in remission. But another four months brought terrible news. Nicolas’ cancer had metastasized and he was given six months to live. His leg was amputated, he was treated with radiotherapy and oral chemotherapy but it was too late.

The last thing Olivier said to his brother was “I love you” before leaving to go shopping the night before Christmas Eve.

When he returned two police cars and two ambulances were parked outside of Olivier’s house. He walked into the front door to see a paramedic performing chest compressions on the body of his younger brother.

Later that evening Olivier sat alone in the hospital room of his dying brother. Tears streamed down his face as he wondered why this had to happen. He kissed his brother’s cheek and said what would be his last goodbye.

When Olivier played his first match of FPU tennis he channeled his brother. “This is for you,” he thought.

Olivier is now a senior at FPU, majoring in biology. He wants to go on to medical school to become a pediatrician. In his final season as a tennis player, Viel still remembers his brother every match and uses him as inspiration.

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