Patient with Neuroblastoma Learns to Believe in Possibilities at Texas Children’s Hospital?
“This was before his tumor was going to be removed, so we needed him to push,” said Jesus. “We sat inside the car and just talked. He was so happy. I told him anything is possible if you have faith.”
“Can we drive the car?” Romeo asked.
“Well,” Jesus hesitated. He wasn’t sure if literally anything was possible. Nonetheless, he said, “Let me talk to the manager.”
Romeo is six years old. He was diagnosed last December with stage 4, high-risk neuroblastoma. Neuroblastoma is a rare type of cancer that develops in nerve tissue and usually affects children less than five years of age.
“His cancer journey started back in September 2022,” recalled Jesus. “He was constipated all the time—we couldn’t figure out what was causing it. It got to the point where he was crying in the middle of the night, grabbing his abdomen. We took him to a number of doctors. Finally, we got some bloodwork done and they did a CT scan. That’s when we discovered that he had a tumor.”
Jesus will never forget the fear and helplessness he felt as they waited to receive the results of the biopsy.
“At that point, we started fearing for the worst—my wife and I,” he said. “There was a lot of crying. We started reaching out to family for emotional support. At work, we dropped everything.”
Jesus looked back at his son in his hospital bed, where they came for his latest round of treatment, “When we got the diagnosis, we looked to God and asked, ‘Why? Why him? Take me, take one of us instead.’” He paused and reflected, holding his wife’s hand. “It’s just a hard pill to swallow.”
As soon as Romeo was diagnosed, his parents started researching hospitals. “Obviously, we did our due diligence and looked for the best. For us, without question, the best was Texas Children’s Hospital.”
Texas Children’s Cancer and Hematology Center—one of the largest pediatric cancer centers in the United States—is ranked among the best in the nation. Its world-renowned staff of nearly 200 faculty and more than 1,000 employees pioneered many of the now standard protocols for treating and curing pediatric cancer and blood disorders. Today, more than 80 percent of children diagnosed with cancer will successfully be cured, a remarkable improvement in outcomes.
“We love Texas Children’s,” said Jesus. “It’s very child friendly. The doctors are so nice, kind, caring and the nurses are highly skilled and professional. It’s just overall a very fun and positive environment around here. We love it. We are very happy with our decision—it’s been a great experience.”
Children with cancer often endure long hospital stays and various types of treatments. Through it all, Romeo and his family maintain a positive and hopeful attitude.
“Romeo has been extremely brave through everything he has faced,” said Dr. Sarah B. Whittle, Director of the Soft Tissue Sarcoma Program at Texas Children’s Hospital. “Treatment for high-risk neuroblastoma is very difficult and requires a lot of time in the hospital, but Romeo always has a positive attitude when he is coming in for treatment. I love seeing pictures and videos of all the fun adventures he has when he is home and feeling good between treatments.”
Of course, it has not been easy. “Cancer treatment is tough,” said Jesus. “Different biopsies, operations, having implants, the change of skin color and hair loss. That’s the worst thing about Romeo having cancer—seeing him suffer. It is something that no parent wants to see their child go through.”
Managing a healthy work-life balance has also been difficult.
“Romeo has two sisters—12-year-old twins,” Jesus said. “They pretty much have to live on their own for at least a week at a time while he’s getting chemo at the hospital because we’re not able to drop them off and pick them up from school. We told them, ‘You have to be strong for Romeo. You have to understand, he’s battling for his life.’ And they said, Dad, don’t worry about us. We just want to support him.’”
Community of support
Romeo’s sisters are not the only ones who want to support him. Throughout his community, friends and neighbors have shown up for Romeo. One of his neighbors is a police officer and when he found out that Romeo wants to become a police officer one day, he arranged to have Romeo sworn in.
“Romeo dressed up like a cop last Halloween,” said Jesus. “He said he wants to become a cop to protect us. When our neighbor found out, he told his friends at the station, and they swore him in.”
“They said ‘we want to adopt Romeo and bring him into the cop community,’” said Jesus. “That was a great experience. Our family showed up for his swearing-in. Now, if we go to a store or restaurant, whenever we see a police officer, Romeo says, ‘Dad, tell him I’m a cop, too.’”
Jesus reflected for a moment and added, “I guess that’s a silver lining about this whole journey. It's one of those experiences that brought us closer together. All of us. Our family, our community.”
Another silver lining, according to Jesus, is a new sense of appreciation for life. “Typically, you try to plan years ahead, but with cancer, you can't do that. You must live one day at a time—to cherish life. Cherish the small moments, because, you know, nothing is promised. Nothing is set in stone. We have to be grateful for each day we have. We have to value the people that are around us.”
Jesus looked back at Romeo.
“Seeing him smile every day, even just playing his games on his tablet, that’s a miracle. We don’t take it for granted.”
Now, Jesus and his wife try to share these lessons with other families at the hospital.
“We meet a lot of parents here,” he said. “You can see the terror on their faces. We try to be that couple that tells them, ‘Hey, it’s going to be ok. You’re in good hands at Texas Children’s. You just have to keep believing.’”
Believe in possibilities
They say parents will do anything for their children, but when Romeo asked if they could drive the Lamborghini, Jesus was not sure if it was a good idea. Nonetheless, he did talk to the general manager, as promised—and he talked to his friends in the community. “And they all told me, ‘Just do it. Do it for Romeo,’” he said. “‘Do it to show him that all things are possible.’”
“I’ve never bought an exotic car, but the manager said, ‘Hey, we’ll help out.’ And so I signed the paperwork. Within two weeks, we drove it home and parked it in our garage. It was the same day as Romeo’s surgery—it was divine timing. He couldn’t wait to get home so we could drive in it together.”
Jesus is now coordinating with the Lamborghini dealership to bring exotic cars to the hospital.
“We know how blessed we are to be able to buy a car like that. Obviously, most children can’t have that experience. So my friends and I are putting together a monthly charity event. We’ll bring these cars to the hospital; the children can admire them or take pictures, sit in them if they can, and that way they can stay energized and hopeful because we feel like that’s what really helped Romeo. The Lamborghini dealer offered to help. They said, ‘Anything you need, just let us know.’”
Romeo is on the road to recovery now, and Jesus remains hopeful.
“What keeps us going is the amazing doctors, the nurses and our family that give us faith and hope,” he said. “We’re manifesting him ringing the bell. We believe it’s possible; we know it’s possible. We’re looking forward to it every day.”