Antonio, Diagnosed With Rare Cancer, Strives To Help Others

Antonio, Diagnosed With Rare Cancer, Strives To Help Others

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A budding rock star, a rising star athlete and a real heartthrob in the making, Antonio Santos was living the dream of most teenagers coming of age.

"I like to have fun," he says.

He had big fun until the day the music stopped and the nightmare began. Ewing Sarcoma, the mysterious sleeping beast lurking within, awakened in his body.

"It is a bone cancer that usually occurs in adolescents or young adults," explains Dr. Richard Womer.

"My diagnostic date was 'the end of the world date,' December 21st," Antonio jokes.

End of the world, as he put it, two months before his 16th birthday.

"It requires aggressive treatment because, untreated, it is uniformly fatal," says Dr. Womer.

"He tells us those words, you don't believe it, not my kid," recalls Joy Santos, Antonio's mother.

Especially since there was no warning sign, Antonio's only symptom being a sore leg, a bit swollen. That was no big deal for a teen soccer player, but luckily, it set off an alarm for Antonio's pediatrician.

"He knew something from feeling that leg," recalls Joy.

The pediatrician ordered Joy and Cecilio Santos to get Antonio to Children's Hospital of Pennsylvania (CHOP) and to sarcoma specialist Doctor Richard Womer.

"Ewing sarcoma comes in several different flavors," describes Dr. Womer.

He says that approximately 250 to 300 cases are treated a year in the United States.

"And probably overall about half of them survive," he adds.

So began eight months of intense and painful treatment and hospital stays.

"Every two weeks, I would go to a different treatment," recalls Antonio. 14 rounds of chemotherapy, 31 sessions of radiation and all those transfusions, the sudden suffering, the enormous family sacrifice was so much to bare.

"Big curve ball, it's huge, there are no words," says Cecilio Santos.

"I say, 'why me,' I say, 'why kids,' why anyone really," says Antonio.

"My husband and I would pray to God, 'give it to us, so he won't have to,' because I'm a mom, so I'll do whatever it takes," says Joy Santos, in tears.

And she did. She brought in a tutor when Antonio could not return to class. And when he could no longer play his drums, she reached out to his idols. Mementos soon poured in from music legends like Bon Jovi and Metallica, as well as huge names in sports, encouraging the young goalie to say strong.

But it's Antonio's spirit, courage and incredibly selfless actions helping other kids in the midst of his own struggle to survive, that's inspiring others to raise money and draw attention to what many call the "forgotten cancer victims": teenagers and young adults.

"I actually just raised a quarter million," says Antonio. And he's just getting started.

Antonio has been named an ambassador of this year's upcoming Four Seasons Parkway Run and Walk, CHOP's premier fundraiser for pediatric cancer, chaired by Phillies pitcher Cliff Lee and his wife Kristin.

"We rely heavily on donated funds to maintain our operations," says Dr. Womer.

"I fight for anyone really. Myself, the little kids," says Antonio. He's got an armful of bracelets to prove it.

"I just finished my last chemotherapy," says Antonio, and he just found out he's well enough to go back to school. So Antonio spends his last day at CHOP, at least for a while, playing pranks on his doctors and card games with the nurses.

"I'm glad I've made progress, but I'm sad to leave the hospital because I've grown with them so much, kind of like another family," Antonio says.

As Antonio gets back to school and back on the drums, he returns with a new mission and an even brighter outlook on life.

"You really do only live once, so just live it up and just keep laughing," he advises.

"He's an amazing child, inside and out," says Joy Santos.

Quite a young man and his future is still uncertain, but he's determined to raise awareness and money for research and the expensive cost of treatment.

Update: On September 11th, Antonio's family informed Joyce Evans that his new scans show that his cancer is now in remission!

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