It took a year of scans, treatments and biopsies before Stanford doctors were able to diagnose a young Los Banos boy with a rare type of bone-and-organ cancer.
Marco Alvarez II spent months wearing a neck brace to protect his fragile bones, and endured pain that kept him up at night. He spent more than a year away from his family home.
Now, with his cancer in remission, the 8-year-old boy was feted by classmates and supporters Friday as he saw a wish become reality.
At an assembly at Mercey Springs Elementary School, Marco learned he’ll be going to Disneyland, a trip made possible by the Make-A-Wish Foundation, an organization dedicated to granting wishes for children diagnosed with life-threatening illnesses.
His classmates cheered him on, along with his family, firefighters, Merced County Supervisor Jerry O’Banion and Los Banos Mayor Mike Villalta.
O’Banion presented Marco with a certificate on behalf of the Board of Supervisors and the firefighters showed Marco around their firetruck.
From Make-A-Wish, Marco received a “Star Wars” backpack filled with snacks, two Mickey Mouse dolls, a Mickey Mouse pajama set and a Mickey Mouse Club Mouseketeer hat.
Marco told the Merced Sun-Star he wanted to go to Disneyland because “it’s really fun and we haven’t been there.”
He said he likes all the characters, especially those from the “Cars” movies. Marco said he looks forward to going on the fast rides with his parents and four siblings.
On the five-day trip, set to start Nov. 16, the Alvarez family will also visit Universal Studios, Knott’s Berry Farm, the Knights of the Round Table and have breakfast at Goofy’s Kitchen.
“We like to give them a little joy,” said Carol Madruga, a volunteer for Make-A-Wish. “We like to give them a little bit of hope and strength.”
In April 2015, Marco was diagnosed with Langerhans cell hystocytosis, a rare type of cancer that damages tissue and causes painful lesions in the body, according to a statement from the Make-A-Wish Foundation.
A year before Marco was diagnosed, he was having a lot of pain in his neck, according to his mom, Joanna Alvarez. The local doctors referred her to Stanford, where doctors suspected he had viral meningitis, an inflammation of membranes around the brain and spinal cord.
But Marco’s condition didn’t improve. And, while doctors searched for a diagnosis, Alvarez said her son suffered through pain that even medication could not relieve.
“Night and day, he would scream himself to sleep,” the 31-year-old mother said. “There were times when we just didn’t know what to do.”
Night and day he would scream himself to sleep. There were times when we just didn’t know what to do.
Joanna Alvarez, 31, mother of Marco Alvarez II
Hearing her child say he wanted to “just die” because of the pain was one of the worst things she had to endure, Alvarez said.
They couldn’t leave the hospital because if Marco fell, he could become paralyzed, Alvarez said. It was frustrating because they couldn’t figure out what was wrong with him.
“It looked like he was on his deathbed, pretty much,” she said.
Eventually Marco was diagnosed, and doctors started appropriate treatments. While Marco is in remission and back at school, Alvarez said they aren’t in the clear.
Marco’s father, also named Marco Alvarez, said there is a 20 percent chance the cancer will return and, in his son’s case, he has an even higher chance because the cancer was in two locations, the neck and spine.
“There’s no guarantee it’s going to stay gone,” he said. “They can only try to prevent it.”
In the meantime, the family looks forward to having Marco enjoy Disneyland.
“Every 35 minutes, we grant a wish to a child,” said Pam Duarte, chairman of Make-A-Wish events in Merced County. “What can be better than that?”
Monica Velez: 209-385-2486