Nathan Alonso has endured more than a year in and out of the hospital undergoing chemotherapy and radiation sessions, but it’s impossible to tell by looking at him that this type of treatment sickens most patients and zaps them of their energy.
In fact, Nathan, at 5 years old, exhibits the same boundless zeal and eagerness to play as any child his age. One recent afternoon he ran a few laps around the playground at his family’s Morgan Hill apartment complex, racing against his brother Xavi, 3, and father Jonathan Alonso. In between laps, he was distracted by a new remote-controlled car that he wanted to teach Xavi how to operate.
“Even his doctors are surprised at how well he’s reacted to the medication,” said Nathan’s mother Lizzette Alonso. “He runs down the hallways of the hospital. I’m surprised he’s been able to tolerate it.”
In March 2013, Nathan was diagnosed with rhabdomyosarcoma, a rare type of childhood cancer that creates malignant tumors that attack the muscles attached to bones, according Lizzette. On March 29 last year, doctors pulled a softball-sized tumor from his abdomen.
Almost immediately, Nathan’s doctors at Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital in Palo Alto prescribed a “very aggressive treatment,” Lizzette said. Ultimately, Nathan went through 20 rounds of chemotherapy, each requiring hospital visits of up to five days at a time, and almost as many radiation treatment sessions. The only obvious side effect shown by Nathan is his loss of hair.
In March of this year, Nathan’s doctors told him and his family he is cancer-free, and he received his last chemotherapy treatment in May, Lizzette said. Doctors celebrated by giving him balloons and a superhero cape.
His family celebrated by taking Nathan and Xavi to Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, where they visited their great-grandfather. They just returned from the trip earlier this week.
“They didn’t want to leave,” Lizzette said of Nathan and Xavi.
Now Nathan has one more round of radiation therapy in an attempt to repair some damage done to his bones by the cancer, his mother said. After that will be periodic checkups with the doctor to ensure his cancer hasn’t returned.
Throughout Nathan’s ordeal, his devoted parents have taken the opportunity to try to raise awareness of his disease and childhood cancer in general, which they say receives only a fraction of attention and research funding that other types of cancer get. They plan to continue to try to bring more attention to childhood cancer research even though Nathan is cancer-free.
Friends and family have followed Nathan’s treatment and progress through social media, under the hashtag “littlenathansbattle” on Instagram and Facebook. His parents made T-shirts in his honor that read “Praying for Nathan Alonso” on the back. Nathan has received care packages from people who have never met him.
There are many different kinds of childhood cancer, and Nathan’s—known as ERMS for short—is among the most rare, according to the American Childhood Cancer Organization. The cause of ERMS is unknown, and usually develops in utero. ERMS accounts for between 5 to 8 percent of all childhood cancers.
“The doctor said about 20 kids a year in the U.S. (are diagnosed) with this cancer,” Lizzette said.
September is National Childhood Cancer Awareness Month. The Alonsos would like to see an effort to mark the occasion locally, perhaps by placing gold ribbons on trees and light posts in downtown Morgan Hill or at local schools.
“We can’t believe kids go through this and people don’t know about it,” said Jonathan, who works at a local telecommunications store and is studying accounting at Gavilan College. “This is pretty much our future,” he added, pointing at Nathan and Xavi.