'No kid should ever get cancer'
He speaks from experience.
A year ago, he was under -going chemotherapy and radiation treatments for Non-Hodgkins Lymphoma. He had been diagnosed with the cancer, which affects the lymphatic system, on May 9 after three months of trying to discover why he was coughing and suffering constant fevers.
Dante, who’ll graduate from eighth-grade tonight and turn 14 on June 29, is doing well these days. But he and his family spent some tough months worrying about his illness and the aggressive treatment required.
It’s left them with an appreciation for the people who offered them help and support, and an empathy for anyone else dealing with cancer. With that in mind, Dante and his family will take part in Friday’s St. Baldrick’s Foundation event in the McMinnville Community Center.
Dante, his 10-year-old brother Dalton and their dad, Manuel Santome, all plan to shave their heads in support of cancer victims. His mom, Nicole Santome, may cut her hair very short, as she did during Dante’s treatments.
St. Baldrick’s events are held across the nation to benefit the fight against childhood cancer. The McMinnville one will run from 5 to 8 p.m. Friday, June 14, with head shaving, a spaghetti feed ($5 per plate), music, a silent auction, a raffle, a vendor fair and speakers.
For more information, visit www.stbaldricks.org/events/mcminnville or look up St. Baldrick’s McMinnville on Facebook.
Dante and Dalton’s mom attended last year’s event hoping to find people who understood what her family was going through.
“It’s really been helpful to meet other parents of kids with cancer,” said their dad. Their mom agreed, saying, “You know you’re not alone.”
The pair are divorced, but they work together to care for their sons. They live in the same apartment complex, with one brother staying with each parent.
In February 2012, they noticed Dante wasn’t getting over a winter cough and fever. They took him to the doctor several times. Antibiotics helped a little, but the cough grew worse and worse.
“I knew something more was wrong,” his mother said.
Finally, in early May, she took him to the hospital and, in Dante’s words, “made them take an X-ray.” The film revealed fluid build-up around his heart, and he was sent to Doernbecher the same day.
Doctors there delivered a sobering diagnosis: Hodgkins, Stage 3B.
When Manuel Santome heard the news, “I thought, my gosh, he doesn’t deserve that.” And he said Dante’s mother took the diagnosis bravely, although she admits to “running off and falling apart” later.
Dante went through four cycles of chemotherapy and 14 days of radiation. He’s proud that he vomited only once during chemo. His hair started to fall out, “so I just shaved it off,” he said.
Nicole Santome said’s she’s proud of both Dante and his brother, a Newby School fourth-grader, who was supportive and loving the whole time. “Oh, they fight, but they love each other,” she said.
She’s also been overwhelmed by the support shown by Dante’s school: students held a fundraiser and performed a play about a child going through cancer; they made banners and sent cards; teachers offered encouragement; Principal Marty Palacios and Scott Phoenix, Dante’s favorite teacher, came to Doernbecher Children’s Hospital to see him.
The community also opened its arms to her family, she said. The See Ya Later Foundation’s Seeds of Hope program gave Dante a 13th birthday party at Scotty’s Playhouse, and he was treated to a second birthday party at the Evergreen Wings & Waves Waterpark.
“People have been so giving, loving and caring,” said Mom, adding that the experiences of the last year have taught her to appreciate life and relationships more.
Friends and others who heard about Dante’s illness — including someone in Australia — sent the middle schooler baseball caps to add to his collection. The Make-A-Wish Foundation gave him a shopping spree and treated him to dinner at Benihana.
Best of all, of course, he is now considered cancer-free, though he has battle scars from biopsies, blood draws and radiation, and suffered permanent radiation damage to his thyroid.
The paper, which Dante will read at the St. Baldrick’s event, ends with some advice to his peers:
“NO kid should EVER get cancer. If YOU do, be strong, hold your head high, and tell yourself over and over, ‘I can do this!’ just as I did, and, look, I survived!”