Teen fights through rare form of cancer

DOWNEY - Seventeen-year old Gus Vasquez, Jr., a Warren High School senior and member of the wrestling team, has for years enjoyed playing football with friends on weekends in Furman Park. Flush with the vigor and energy of youth, his most recent plans included attending Prom Night in May and graduation in June, then work on becoming a registered nurse.A pain in his right knee (that he, like most youth do, brushed off) in the beginning of September, a noticeable limp after football-in-the park (noticed by his dad) the next time out (he was also wrestling during all this time), a biopsy that indicated further tests were needed, the tests performed on the knee by his primary doctor, Dr. Gumbrell, and orthopedic Dr. Daniel Allison, proving inconclusive, and finally his oncologist's eventual diagnosis on Jan. 6 that he had a "rare type of cancer" - lymphoma diffuse large B cell non-Hodgkins - was to rearrange the fabric of their lives. The diagnosis shook Gus Sr. to the core ("Why this, O my God?") and equally devastated young Gus. It meant no football, no wrestling, and God knows what else. When Naomi, the mother, learned the bad news, she collapsed. Meanwhile, a modicum of normalcy had had to be maintained. The mode of treatment for now calls for six chemotherapy sessions, spaced about 21 days apart, at Kaiser Permanente Medical Center in Downey. The first one was on Jan. 20, the second one, just recently, on Thursday last week. A third is scheduled for March 4. Gus Sr. said the sessions last about 10 hours. According to him also, Dr. Naveen Qureshi, the oncologist, will be able to have a prognosis at or near the end of the treatments. In the meantime, a wheelchair had to be obtained (a motorized one was provided courtesy of the Espinosa family), their home has had to be protected against germs of any kind, home schooling had to be arranged, etc. Gus Jr.'s knee had become very fragile and it couldn't bear the slightest weight. All this has occurred amid fear and worry, the family's heartstrings trembling at the thought of the traitorous ailment afflicting the son. Calls and visits from classmates, words of comfort and hope from both school and spiritual counselors have somehow kept his spirits up. At first, he slept a lot. Now he watches his favorite TV shows, especially MTV. Listening to music is another favorite activity. He says he hasn't lost any weight despite the fact that he is down to two meals a day, his modified diet disallowing red meat or pork but allowing the intake of dairy items and veggies except the leafy ones (cabbage, lettuce, parsley, etc.). His home teacher, Russell Cramm, comes Tuesdays and Thursdays and for two and a half hours each time, he continues to take lessons on economics, chemistry, algebra II, and English 12, requirements for graduation. Via special dispensation, he doesn't have to take his electives on drama and multi-cultural entertainment. Gus Sr. seems to have totally accepted the reality of their disrupted routines, and now feels the son's affliction could after all be a blessing in disguise. Both father and son said it has drawn their family and relatives closer together. Their ancestry is Puerto Rican. In the meantime, they pray hard (they belong to the La Vina Centro Cristiano Church here in Downey) and the couple continues to work hard, he taking care of his commercial/industrial laundrymat route, while Naomi attends to her duties at United Site Services (they have resided in Downey for 20 years). The youngest son, Joshua, is a freshman at Warren, while eldest daughter resides in Arizona, and the second daughter lives in Long Beach. The pressure of finances adds a heavy dimension to the family's plight as they face a potentially serious problem for the first time in their lives. Gus Sr. says the total of the tendered initial bill (covering doctor's services and chemotherapy) was a shocker: it amounted to over $25,000. It's scary, he says, and he thanks elements at the school district and Warren High itself, plus other personal friends and entities, who have indicated they may perhaps be able to stage fundraising activities, in addition to the family's own efforts, to help them out. After all, they have resided in Downey for 20 years, and have been active in the community. Meanwhile, because of the chemo treatments, Gus Jr.'s hair is starting to fall out. He has been told this would happen. He appears undaunted as he toughs it out. He's more determined than ever: he says he's looking forward to Prom Night and graduation day. In the meantime, they have established the Gus Valdez, Jr. Fund, Chase Bank Account #881276893, P.O. Box # 41002, Downey, CA 90239.

********** Published: February 17, 2011 - Volume 9 - Issue 44