When Alfredo and Maria DeJesus learned their then 11-year-old son, Luis, had leukemia, they prepared for a long battle. Luis would undergo chemotherapy treatment, followed by a bone marrow transplant.
“Luis told me, ‘Don’t cry. Promise me you won’t cry. I want to be strong,’” says Maria. “It was hard for me, but he made me promise. I thought if he can do it, I can do it.”
The family found strength in their deep faith in God and through the love and support of each other and their close-knit circle of extended family and friends. Twenty-one people shaved their heads in solidarity with Luis. The family prayed for a miracle, and seven months later, their miracle came true – Luis was cancer-free.
Love and Inspiration
Maria says she and Luis kept each other strong and describes him as her inspiration. “On those really difficult days, Luis reminded me not to cry,” she says. “He would say ’If you cry, I want to cry and I can’t. If you don’t cry, that’s my vitamin.’”
She watched as pediatric cancer transformed her son from an innocent, sensitive child into a strong young man. She was grateful to be constantly surrounded with love. “We sometimes had 30 people in his hospital room,” she says. “Some families didn’t have anyone, so we would share our family. It was God’s plan for us.”
Getting Involved, Gaining Hope
Luis’ treatment ended, and he struggled with treatment side effects including sensitive skin, bone loss in his lower back and memory problems. Later he was diagnosed with diabetes. Through his teens, he made yearly visits to the CBCC Survivorship Clinic, where he was closely monitored for delayed side effects and complications caused by previous cancer therapies. The staff encouraged him and his family to join the CBCC Survivor Challenge exercise group, and they participated in many running sessions and 5K runs. Luis made lots of friends through Hungry Bunch, a teen support group for CBCC patients, and attended monthly outings, camps, parties and special proms.
When Luis turned 19, his survivorship care was transferred to Seton’s ACCESS AYA Program, which follows cancer survivors from 18 through 39 years of age to promote healthy living. One of the benefits to members of this program includes a free YMCA membership, which Luis takes full advantage of. He is grateful for the lifelong exercise habits he developed during his experiences with Survivor Challenge and is committed to keeping his body healthy and strong.
Luis looks to the future with confidence and hope. Having diabetes sparked his interest in creating gluten-free special occasion cakes for people who can’t eat sugar, and he ran a home bakery business throughout high school. He is working in a restaurant while he applies for college, where he plans to major in business. He dreams of owning a bakery that specializes in sugar-free items and franchising his business around the United States.
Maria believes Luis will achieve his dream. “I tell him ‘you can do it. Whatever it is you want, you can have it.’ He is determined to succeed, and I am really proud of him.”