Everyone's life has a story. In "Lives," we tell some of those stories about North Shore people who have died recently. "Lives" runs Mondays in The Salem News.
Even at the end, Erik West didn't complain.
Everybody would have understood if he had. His family had seen what the cancer and the debilitating treatment of it had done to the teenager — how it had robbed him of a normal life and a future.
Then there was the gruesome physical toll. In his final days, Erik couldn't keep food down. He couldn't feel his legs.
He had every reason to feel sorry for himself, to angrily curse his fate and the tumor that had grown on a nerve in his spine. But somehow, amazingly, after 21/2 years of coping with the disease, and as he stared death in the face earlier this month, the 18-year-old stayed positive.
"A couple of months ago he said to me, 'Mom, if it does happen, I'm going to be smiling right to the end,'" recalled his mother, Elayne West. "I don't know why he said that, but he said it, and he did it."
Erik died May 11 at his mother's home in Danvers, surrounded by his family.
"He was an inspiration," his mother said. "He brought brightness and positiveness to everybody he met."
Unlike his mom, who described herself as the "shy type," Erik was outgoing — a talker.
"He got along great with everybody," said his grandmother, Claire West. "He loved people. He would talk to everybody."
They loved him at Massachusetts General Hospital. The receptionist, nurses, cafeteria workers, and cleaning crew knew who he was. They would visit him, perching themselves at the edge of his bed to chat. Erik would offer them a Hershey Kiss from a bag of the candies he always made sure to bring with him.
On the Internet, Erik befriended people from across the country and from places like Australia, Sweden and Norway.
He was a natural on the computer. He took the money he made from his job as a short-order cook at the Cityside Diner on Cabot Street in Beverly and bought the parts to make his own.
His favorite pastime was computer games. When the "Make-a-Wish" Foundation brought him down to Bethesda Softworks, a prominent game developer, Erik's knowledge so impressed the company representatives that they took him on a far more in-depth tour than what was originally planned.
"He was talking to them on their level," said his sister Shawna West, a junior at Beverly High School. The company promised to base a character on him called "Erik the Destroyer," she said.
When he was 16, Erik was diagnosed with Ewing's sarcoma. It is the same rare cancer — only 150 cases a year are diagnosed in the U.S. — that his former classmate Mike Petrosino has. Despite undergoing chemotherapy and radiation, Erik still managed to graduate from Beverly High School in 2010.
"We were two peas in a pod," said his dad, H. James West III. They shared a love of history and had a busy "nonlinear" way of thinking in common.
Erik was also inquisitive.
"He asked me so many questions about religion that I finally said, 'Why don't you come to my (weekly) Bible study?'" his grandmother said. And that's what Erik did.
He also played the electric guitar, occasionally sang karaoke and recently began to sketch. When his sister broke a rule, Erik would talk down his upset mother, explaining to her that breaking rules is just what teenagers do.
"He would always help me out, big time," his sister said. As the end approached, she barely left Erik's side, choosing to sleep on the floor next to his bed.
He tried to reassure his mom by telling her there is a reason for everything.
"'All good things have come out of this, Mom,'" his mother recalled Erik saying. "'I wouldn't be able to do what I'm doing, wouldn't have been able to meet all these people.'"