November 5, 2013
When Alfredo and Maria DeJesus learned their 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.
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 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.”
Today Luis is 17, a senior at Hutto High School, and a survivor of childhood cancer. In spring 2013, he was diagnosed with diabetes. He suffers late effects from chemotherapy, including sensitive skin and bone loss in his lower back and spine. He misses school due to illness and hospitalizations and struggles with memory problems, both negatively affecting his ability to learn.
“I tend to forget things very quickly,” Luis says.”It is getting better the further out from treatment I get, and I’m training myself to do memory activities.”
Luis is a member of the Children’s Blood & Cancer Center Survivor Challenge exercise group and has made running a part of his exercise regimen. He’s also a member of Hungry Bunch, a support group for teens with cancer, and attends Camp Rocky Ridge each year. He enjoys working with young cancer patients. “It makes me sad because I see different faces and know people who are still in treatment. I know what they’re going through, so I try to make their camp experience a great time.”
Luis attends Hungry Bunch prom each year, usually with a special date. “Last year I took my cousin, who came to visit me in the hospital every day. This year I took my sister because she was my bone marrow donor.”
Luis will graduate from high school in the spring and looks to the future with confidence and hope. Having diabetes sparked his interest in a new passion – he has started a home bakery business, creating gluten free, special-occasion cakes for people who can’t eat sugar.
He is applying for college and plans to get degrees in both business and culinary arts. He dreams of owning a bakery business, specializing in sugar-free items, and franchising his business around the United States.
Maria believes Luis will achieve his dream. “Sometimes he’ll come home from school with a low grade. When he looks sad, I tell him, ‘No! Don’t cry! You can do it. Whatever it is you want, you can have it.’ He is almost finished with high school. He goes in for tutorials when he needs to, even on Saturdays.He is determined to succeed, and I am really proud of him.”