MULESHOE, Texas — Make-A-Wish kid Matthew Alarcon is ringing the victory bell in celebration of being cancer free. In fact, this whole journey started with his love of football.
“When I was 16, I was playing varsity football for my team here in Muleshoe when I tore my ACL,” said Alarcon.
A few months after the injury, he was given the all clear to go back out on the field. He was ready, but first needed to get some new shoes.
“I went to the store to buy shoes,” he said. “As soon as I walked out, I got blurry vision out of nowhere.”
He said that was on a Friday so we waited the weekend to get it checked out.
“That Monday, I still had it,” he said. “So we went to the clinic and they referred us to an eye doctor. He ran some tests and said we need to go to UMC and get an MRI. That same day we found out I had a brain tumor.”
His pediatric oncology doctor set up a plan to treat it with chemotherapy, surgery, and radiation.Before treatment got underway, Matthew was able to attend his junior prom.
“We started chemotherapy that second week I believe. The first day we went in to get a second MRI. His tumor had grown just enough that it blocked the spinal fluid from exiting his brain,” said Rhea Gonzales, Alarcon’s mom. “He got hydrocephalus that was more pressing at the moment than his brain tumor.”
Following that, more chemotherapy and another MRI showed his tumor was only getting bigger, and not shrinking.
“So, they had to go in and debulk the tumor because it was growing and the had to debulk it. After that he got a brain bleed. He lost the ability to walk, talk, move, basically in a coma for two weeks,” said Gonzales. “No one was expecting that to happen. We were like we need prayers big time. The whole community really stepped in and supported us in a really big way.”
From there, he went through rehab. The steroids made him gain forty pounds, which made re-learning how to do everything even harder. During all this, he smiled and knew he was going to get through it.
“He continued to go to UMC for his chemo and once that was done, I think we stayed home about a month,” said Gonzales. “He had to get proton radiation to his brain and spine. We decided to go to Irving to proton center over there.”
It wasn’t long after that, he met one of his heroes, Doctor David Sandberg who is the professor and Director of Pediatric Neurosurgery at UTHealth/Children’s Memorial Hermann.
“I got a call from his parents, they were concerned he had a brain tumor in a challenging place,” said Sandberg.
Doctor Sandberg knew he could help.
”I’ve always had an interest in brain tumors in children. That’s my passion, that’s my life’s work. His tumor is a very large tumor. When I saw the films, it was very clear he needed another surgical resection,” said Sandberg. “So his parents decided to come up to Houston. I was honored to be able to take care of him.”
So, what would Matthew request from the Make-A-Wish Foundation when it was he was finally feeling better and ready for some fun?
“My wish was going to Houston to see my neurosurgeon who took out my whole tumor,” said Alarcon.
When Doctor Sandberg heard this was his wish, he was floored.
“When I got the message from them that they were coming to Houston from Make-A-Wish, I was honestly quite stunned. To be told that his wish was to come to Houston and spend time with me. But my inclination was ‘I’ll do that anyway, use your wish for something else.’ That’s really what they wanted,” said Sandberg. “It kind of speaks to what kind of person he is and his parents you know? That’s what they value. No one has ever asked me that before.”
Matthew, his siblings, and parents along with doctor Sandberg and a physicians assistant all got together and had a wonderful lunch.
“It was really extraordinary. We talked about surgery, life prospects, future about school. His parents, what lovely people. I consider them friends. They’re amazing,” said Dr. Sandberg.
It’s easy to see the incredible connection these two have.
“He’s the doctor that took out the entire tumor when they say he could only get eighty percent out. He took out the whole tumor and saved my life. I have so much love and respect for him,” said Alarcon.
“I can certainly tell you, it helped me. It’s really a privilege to get to know kids like that. For him to want to spend additional time with me as his wish. Is a huge honor and something I’ll always remember,” said Sandberg.
For Matthew’s parents getting to help him live out his dream was very emotional.
”You know, we could have gone on a trip. But with everything that he went through the meaning of life and spending it with those you care about family. That’s all that mattered to me. I just enjoyed living life with my son. We’re going to enjoy it together,” said Gonzales.
Matthew’s has some advice for any kids going through something similar.
“Have faith in God and always believe and pray and never give up,” said Alarcon.
If you’d like to get involved with the Make-A-Wish Foundation just give them a call at 806-785-9474.
Wish Wednesday is sponsored by Michael Postar’s Affordable Storage. https://affordablestoragelubbock.com/community/