International teen braves nine-month cancer fight

International teen braves nine-month cancer fight

When 14-year-old Patrick O’Hara-Mendoza was diagnosed with cancer in 2021, his family decided to seek care at Texas Children’s Hospital.

The diagnosis was T-lymphoblastic lymphoma, a rare form of aggressive non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma in which too many immature white blood cells are found in the lymph nodes and spleen. Tumors frequently arise in the middle of the chest, though lymphoma cells may appear elsewhere.

Patrick’s journey began in Peru when he felt a pain in his chest while surfing. An emergency center X-ray revealed a large mass with significant fluid around his lungs.

“The tumor was pushing on my heart and was causing a lot of damage,” Patrick said. “When I arrived at the hospital, they took me to the emergency center. Within three days, I was in Houston.”

The family says that Texas Children’s international reputation for excellence in clinical care made their choice of hospital an easy one. They reached out to Dr. Nino Rainusso, a physician at Texas Children’s Cancer and Hematology Center with whom Patrick’s father had gone to school in Peru. He immediately suggested they transfer to the nation’s largest children’s hospital in Houston.

Patrick remembers that it all happened very fast. He recalls coming into Texas Children’s Emergency Center on a Wednesday, having a biopsy and a port placement and, by Saturday, starting his first chemotherapy treatments. The treatments were successful, and the tumor began shrinking.

The resilient teenager, who now is back home, went through nine months of intensive treatment and raves about his experience at Texas Children’s.

“What sticks out the most is that the hospital really does specialize in children,” Patrick said. “Everyone is kind to you, always checking on you and trying to help you. When I first came, I thought I was hallucinating because there were games and crafts and food that children like. I thought to myself, ‘Is there anything they don’t have?!’”

All of the child-friendly amenities are part of the hospital’s goal to help patients relax, connect with the medical staff and comply with prescribed treatment plans.

“I can’t say enough good things about Texas Children’s, all their staff went above and beyond to make Patrick feel safe and confident about his treatment,” said Jimena Mendoza, Patrick’s mother. “We always felt that we were in the best of hands, but even more, we felt that every single person really cared not only about the patient, but about their family members as well. Texas Children’s really made the toughest experience we have had to deal with much more manageable. Patrick even says that the hospital is his favorite place in Houston. He had a hard time saying goodbye—and so did I.”

Patrick talks openly about the rigors and challenges of cancer. But he also says that he would tell any new patient to be positive and hopeful.

“I would tell them that this diagnosis is a parenthesis in their lives,” he said. “Cancer doesn’t have to destroy you. You can fight it and go back to playing sports, being strong— and most importantly— being you.”

Patrick has already gone back to school and will continue another 18 months of mild maintenance chemotherapy. He also will continue to manage his Instagram account—@chau-cangrejo—which chronicles his cancer journey and now has more than 15,000 followers.

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