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Family hoping for healthy new year

Chad Abraham
Miguel Vasquez, a 16-month-old Basalt boy, is suffering from neuroblastoma, an aggressive type of cancer.
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Martha Menchaca knew something was wrong with her son about a month ago.Her 16-month-old, Miguel Vasquez, is a big eater: cheeseburgers, chicken nuggets, “everything you put in front of him,” Menchaca said. So when Miguel began throwing up and refusing to eat, his mother took him to see Dr. Maddie Simonet of Aspen Valley Pediatrics. The doctor ordered a CT scan at Aspen Valley Hospital.The scan “showed what looked like a mass; the way the mass was on the CT scan, it was basically a 90 percent chance of neuroblastoma,” Simonet said. The cancerous tumor was along Miguel’s spine.He was hospitalized overnight before being taken to Children’s Hospital in Denver. A biopsy there confirmed the devastating news.

So when Miguel began throwing up and refusing to eat, his mother took him to see Dr. Maddie Simonet of Aspen Valley Pediatrics. The doctor ordered a CT scan at Aspen Valley Hospital.The scan “showed what looked like a mass; the way the mass was on the CT scan, it was basically a 90 percent chance of neuroblastoma,” Simonet said. The cancerous tumor was along Miguel’s spine.He was hospitalized overnight before being taken to Children’s Hospital in Denver. A biopsy there confirmed the devastating news.And a parent’s worst nightmare was just beginning.In for the ‘long haul’Miguel Vasquez is the youngest of three Basalt boys. His brothers, ages 7 and 4, are staying with an uncle in Rifle during Miguel’s stay in the hospital.”They know he’s sick. They don’t know exactly how sick,” said Maria Magana, Miguel’s aunt.And how could they? No one knew exactly how ill the boy was until extensive tests were done in Denver. Even during the testing, the cancer was spreading throughout his bones.Surgery would have to be performed on Miguels skull to relieve pressure on his brain, followed by his first round of chemotherapy.The radiation treatment on top of surgery was nearly too much. Miguel was near death as his kidneys and lungs failed.With doing the chemo, it just made everything worse, Menchaca said. He almost died. They told us, You had better call everybody because he might be alive for another two days.But hes made it and hes a very strong little boy. Hes a fighter.The fight is far from over. Miguel will have to undergo a stem-cell transplant, and possibly a bone-marrow transplant, sometime in the near future.Neuroblastoma is defined by the National Institutes of Health as a malignant tumor that develops from nerve tissue. The cancer occurs mainly in young children.The older you are, usually the worse the prognosis, Somonet said. Its a long haul for them right now. This tends to be one of the more aggressive cancers. It involves a lot of intervention.Hes going to be there through the holidays.What the future holdsMiguel finished his second round of chemo the week before Christmas and will have six more rounds during the next six months, his mother said. In infants and toddlers, chemotherapy can lead to anemia, anorexia and gastrointestinal problems, along with the loss of hair.Patients with neuroblastoma have a permanent line, similar to an IV, placed in a vein to allow for the administration of chemotherapy.Doctors will harvest his stem cells from his bone marrow and they test and make sure theres no cancer in them, Simonet said. So they give him back stem cells of his own. Its called an auto-transplant.Surgery will have to be performed again to remove whatever is left of the tumor in his stomach.Seeing her child wheeled into surgery was horrible, said Menchaca, who has lived in Basalt since she was 9 years old. The 24-year-old works at All Valley Womens Care and just graduated this month from Colorado Mountain College with an associate of arts degree.Watching over Miguel kept Menchaca from her graduation ceremony. But some things are more important.I can hold him now. Theyve taken out the breathing tube so hes breathing on his own now, Menchaca said. Hes doing a lot better than before.More himself nowDoctors have been giving the family lots of hope, Menchaca said. This cancer reacts well to the chemo. Even though its all over most of his body, hes at a good age.What theyve told us is that usually if kids go through the six-month chemotherapy treatment, and by the age of 6 if the cancer hasnt reappeared, then there is a pretty good chance that it wont come back.That Miguel survived after the surgery on his skull surprised doctors. But the progress he has made since then has stunned them.After the surgery, everybody thought he wasnt going to make it. All the doctors are very surprised, his mom said. They say hes their favorite little patient because theyve seen him go through all this stuff and hes still really strong.There is now a chance that Miguel could be back home before his next round of chemotherapy in a couple of weeks.The community has strongly supported the family during its ordeal, having a Thanksgiving dinner delivered to the hospital and setting up an account at Vectra Bank. Basalt Elementary is organizing a fund-raiser for the family.The support has helped a lot. Everybody is calling. Its good to know that you have lots of people behind you, Menchaca said.All the past, present and future heartache, all the rounds of chemotherapy, the lives interrupted, the medical expenses, pale in comparison to seeing the little boy open his eyes with another chance at life.Hes been awake for about a week now. Hes had his eyes open and hes laughing. You cant hear his voice because he had that tube in for some long, but he giggles I can see him shake, Menchaca said. Its really good to see him laughing again. For everything hes been through, I think hes being more himself now.How you can helpA fund has been set up at Vectra Bank for Miguel Vasquez, a 16-month-old Basalt boy who has neuroblastoma, an aggressive type of cancer.Donations, which are tax-deductible, can be made at any Vectra Bank location. Deposits should be made out to the Miguel Vasquez Fund, account 4759753843, or donations can be dropped off at the offices of All Valley Women’s Care or Aspen Valley Pediatrics.For more information, call Maria at 948-7848.Chad Abrahams e-mail address is chad@aspentimes.com


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