We heard of the Contreras family through our neighborhood in the Highlands, and our hearts were immediately cracked open wide. Rita and DJ are the strong parents of three boys, and they have had to undergo what no parent, child or family should have to endure. Their oldest son, Nathaniel, was diagnosed with bone cancer in his leg, and had to have his leg amputated at only six years old. After two clean scans, the doctors discovered that the cancer had moved to his lungs, and the Contreras family began down the road of chemotherapy yet another time. It’s been two years since their struggle began.
After hearing of Nathaniel’s story, we reached out to them and offered to photograph their family so that they could remember the short time in their lives before Nathaniel began his treatment for the second time. It was an honor to spend time with them ~ Rita and DJ are so loving, and their lively boys just want to be boys. Nathaniel has a smile that is contagious and a sweetness that makes you want to scoop him up, squeeze him, and tell him how very special he is.
The expenses that the Contreras family is facing are HUGE, and we are asking our family and friends to visit Nathaniel’s Caring Bridge site to hear his whole story and consider giving anything that feels right to you. Here’ the link:
We’ve included some photos from our session with this beautiful family, and we’ve also posted Rita’s words below. Thank you so very much!
Sending our love and compassion always ~ Dave & Lynn
“How we got here” Rita Contreras, Nathaniel’s mother
“In February 2012, Nathaniel began to complain of leg pain near his left knee. With only a few weeks before Nathaniel’s 6th birthday, we chalked it up to growing pains. While his activity seemed normal and the complaining of pain subsided, after a few weeks, he again complained of pain in the same exact spot – near his knee. While rubbing his legs, we felt “stiffness” to his leg, and decided to schedule a doctor appointment. That is when our lives changed forever.
During that appointment, doctors informed us that there appeared to be a tumor on his left leg. While the shock took effect and tears swelled in our eyes, I will never forget the disturbed look on my son’s face when he saw both of us crying and came to me and asked “am I going to die?” What could we say? Of course the immediate response was “absolutely not!” But what did we know? All we knew at that point was we needed to stay strong for the sake of our children.
We immediately checked into Children’s Hospital and within days the biopsy revealed that our son had Osteosarcoma – bone cancer- on his left femur. While nothing prepares you for a tragedy such as this, there wasn’t much time as action was necessary and immediate. We found ourselves quickly becoming chemotherapy experts, pain management consultants, and sideline nurses. What else could we do? We couldn’t take the cancer away or pretend it didn’t exist. The helplessness we felt was overwhelming. The three months between the diagnosis and Nathaniel’s surgery happened so quickly, it felt only like three weeks. Splitting time between Nathaniel and his two younger siblings, coordinating who was going to be at the hospital and who was going to be at home became the basis of our daily conversation. However, before we could exhale, we were hit with another tough decision: because the tumor was located too close to Nathaniel’s growth plate, we were honestly given only one viable option that would allow our son two incredible opportunities: 1) the chance of survival and 2) the opportunity to live an active life. As mentioned, it was a viable option, not a welcome one. We had no choice but to amputate a portion of Nathaniel’s leg where the cancer was thriving.
In May 2012, Nathaniel underwent an 8 hour surgical procedure called Rotationplasty. While difficult to explain it’s essentially removing the portion of his leg with the tumor and connecting the bottom portion of his leg to the top, and rotating his ankle, so that his ankle would serve as his knee. It took nearly a year for his leg to heal, as chemo weakens your bones. Nathaniel was fitted for a prosthetic leg. While he completed chemo in October 2012, his time after chemo would be spent on building muscle and learning to maximize the use of his prosthetic, or as we call it, his “robot leg”.
Nathaniel in one word, is a Trooper. He is a kid who has handled the tides that have come his way with a smile on his face. The chemo has not been kind. He’s persevered through extreme nausea and fatigue, the removal of a limb, mouth sores that swelled so badly it hurt for him to swallow water, and made his lips look as though he’d just gotten a bad botox job.
Once chemo ended, we began to see our son how we remember him most. He found a new zest for life. A great head of hair started to grow, his eyelashes and eyebrows returned and he was a burst of energy no matter where we were. While realizing that was one of the hardest years of our lives, it was wonderful to feel like things were becoming a bit more normal – or as normal as life can be after such a traumatic year. Unfortunately, we would only enjoy a mere four months of Nathaniel being “cancer free”.
In April 2013, Nathaniel’s scans revealed two nodules on his left lung, which in a nutshell means the cancer wasn’t completely gone, and the lungs and heart is the next natural place this disease would spread. Needless to say, this was devastating news. Within two weeks, Nathaniel was scheduled for yet another surgery to remove the nodules from his left lung and we would begin 12 rounds of chemo (essentially 1 round per month). While the routine we had in place was hardly something we could consider a thing of the past, we quickly went back into our old routine, doing our best to take it all day by day. With three boys under 8, life is already a whirlwind, but putting a serious illness such as this in the mix, it’s more than any family should have to endure.
How you can help:
While Nathaniel’s expenses are ongoing, since one parent must be with Nathaniel during treatment and get him to all of his lab, scans, and x-ray visits, we are surviving off one income, which at times is more than challenging: living expenses in general, and between visits back and forth from home to the hospital, gas expenses and vehicle maintenance alone are huge, not to mention the medical expenses, including prescriptions, physical therapy, and mostly, the inability to save for Nathaniel’s next prosthetic leg. Every year that he experiences a growth spurt, he will need a new leg made to accommodate his growing leg and foot. While his growth is a great thing, it’s also expensive. Our goal is to be able to raise enough money to cover costs of medication and hospital and lab visit co-pays, physical therapy appointments, and having enough money to pay for future “robot legs” each time one is needed (likey once a year), and allowing us to be relieved of some of the financial burden. While your contribution is not tax-deductible, we appreciate that you are contributing to help out a family in need who does their best with the resources they have, and works hard to protect their children from the financial stressors that can sometimes take a toll on their parents.