Only have a minute? Listen instead
EDINBURG — Nallely Garza and her husband Pedro Garcia first noticed something was amiss as they tried to enjoy a walk at Doolittle Nature Park with their two young boys on a Spring day in 2022.
Alfonso, their eldest, appeared to be struggling with an incessant pain in his leg. Walks at the park were a familiar pastime for the young parents, Alfonso, and his younger brother, Fabian. But this particular walk was overshadowed by Alfono’s unrelenting pain.
“He kept complaining about leg pain,” Nallely recalled. “We decided to come home.”
By the time the family had returned to their parked car, the pain in Alfonso’s leg had become excruciating. His parents recalled that the pain became so unbearable for the young boy that he began to shake and cry “hysterically”.
“He was shaking because of the pain and he would rub his legs,” Pedro recalled.
He hypothesized that the pain could be the result of Alfonso’s youthful energy and constant running, or perhaps growing pains.
Roughly a month later, Alfonso’s temperature began to fluctuate — rising as high as 101 degrees, then dropping to 98 degrees before rising again.
Nallely, who describes herself as the type of mother who will take her children to the doctor at the first sign that they may be sick, said that she made multiple trips with Alfonso to try to figure out what could be causing his fevers.
“We noticed that his white blood cell count kept climbing and climbing,” she said. “He got an antibiotic shot, we went back the next day and it had doubled.”
Alfonso’s physical appearance also began to be affected by whatever was ailing him. His once full, chubby cheeks began to grow paler, he began to lose weight, and his eyes began to droop. His seemingly endless energy and playful demeanor had also vanished. It was then that the doctor decided to admit Alfonso into the hospital to run more tests.
They were told that it could be two things, mononucleosis (mono) or cancer.
“I remember I told my husband who was working at the time, ‘There’s no way that it’s cancer. I’m not even worried about that. It’s probably just the mono. They’re going to do antibiotics and we’ll be out of here in the next couple of days.’” she recalled.
For Alfonso’s parents, they couldn’t begin to consider the possibility that their son might have a serious illness. They had already made plans for that weekend as they awaited the results of the tests.
On April 14, Nallely had been told that the doctor would be meeting with her first that morning. The parents perceived that information as proof that their son was fine.
“The doctor walked in and told me to take a seat because I was standing next to my son,” she recalled. “She sat down next to me and was like, ‘I’m sorry to tell you, but we found cancer cells in your son’s blood.’ After that I just broke down crying. Everything she was telling me, I couldn’t even hear her. In my head I was like, ‘What’s going to happen to my son?’
“In that moment, I thought I was going to lose him.”
Specifically, Alfonso was diagnosed with B-cell acute lymphoblastic leukemia, which originates in the bone marrow and makes individuals more susceptible to infections.
Alfonso was immediately transported to Doctors Hospital at Renaissance to begin treatment.
He has regular monthly visits for his “pokes” as well as lumbar puncture procedures every three months. Not long after he began chemotherapy, his hair fell out and he began suffering from nausea.
“Right now, his biggest fear is port pokes, and it’s right here in his chest,” Nallely said, pointing to a small bump in his chest where a chemo pump was implanted. “Even with the numbing cream, he’ll still feel the pain.”
In the time since his diagnosis, Alfonso’s health has improved but the family has continued to struggle to make ends meet.
“The beginning months were the hardest for (Alfonso),” she said. “He spent his birthday in the hospital. We spent Christmas in the hospital. Most of last year was in the hospital and for extended amounts of time because of how bad the (chemotherapy) would bring him down.”
Due to all the time spent in the hospital, Alfonso’s father had to leave his previous job. He was without a job for six months.
“I was basically just doing stuff through the outside,” Pedro recalled. “I would cut grass. I would do what I could so that I could get extra money for the house because the bills are still there, the rent, the water, the light, pampers, food.”
He found a new job that sees him working six days out of the week. Nallely remains at home with Alfonso, Fabian, and two twin boys who were born this year.
Due to his unpredictable schedule, Alfonso was home schooled throughout the entire 2022-2023 school year. He was able to return to school this year at Enedina B. Guerra Elementary.
“He’s a very happy kid,” Adriana Salazar, Alfonso’s teacher, said. “He misses a lot because of his illness, so he’s a very missed student. When he comes everybody gets super excited. He just brightens everybody’s day because everybody misses him.”
She said that Alfonso’s absences and his year of homeschooling have resulted in him falling behind, but she has seen improvement. She added that he had just written a letter to Santa — a huge accomplishment for him.
Despite his situation, she said that he has never used it as an excuse.
“He never mentions anything from the doctors or the hospitals,” she said.
At his home, there are few signs that the young boy is suffering from cancer. On the counter in the kitchen, nearly a dozen pill bottles sit on top of the microwave — including a chemo pill that he must take twice a week — next to a few empty pink containers of Enfamil baby formula.
Outside the house, Alfonso and Fabian run around the yard kicking a soccer ball and riding small scooters. At times, his energy seems uncontainable. His head is full of hair once again and his playful demeanor is on full display.
His last day of treatment is scheduled for July 28 of next year, but right now his family is simply hoping to be able to spend his birthday on Dec. 15 and Christmas together and outside of the hospital.
“Our biggest concern right now is to make the kids happy,” Nallely said.
“We want them to have what they need,” Pedro added. “Right now my concern is their health and for them to have a good time — not really focusing on the sickness. He doesn’t really focus on it.”
The family is hoping for help with expensive medical bills while Alfonso would like robots and transformers for Christmas. His brother, Fabian, would like toy cars.
To help, call the United Way of South Texas at (956) 686-6331 and inquire about this family and the Spirit of Christmas campaign. The Monitor has partnered with the United Way of South Texas to garner support for Rio Grande Valley families in need of monetary donations, or other items and gifts specified in this story.