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In Spite of It All | Part 1 By Alfredo Vergel On a Friday afternoon a couple of years ago, I walked nonchalantly with my eldest son, Gianmarco, unaware of the change about to come. That summer, I had gotten into a routine of walking home with my kids from the campus where I work whenever they happened to be with me at the end of a workday. It was hot outside, so I made nothing of their usual complaints about having to walk home. I knew that they would soon start enjoying the journey. Time flew while we raced, caught fireflies as the evening began, gazed at hawks and roadrunners, observed the topography and the plants along the way, or imagined ourselves walking through dense forests. We loved spinning together while each of them hung onto one of my arms. On that particular day, Gianmarco seemed more tired than usual and did not enjoy himself as much as he typically did. He even declined racing from the corner of our block to our house, which seemed rare since he was almost always the one to initiate it. Since he had what my wife and I thought was the flu, I didn’t give it much thought. It even gave our youngest son, Lucas, the chance to win for the first time. Once we made it home, another rare thing happened: Gianmarco went straight to bed. Surprised by having a quiet evening, I also decided to go to bed early. The following Wednesday, Gianmarco and I were still sick and decided to spend the entire day at home. We couldn’t understand why he was still not back to his normal self. Doctors at a nearby emergency care facility had diagnosed him with an ear infection the previous Sunday, while his pediatrician had seen him on Monday. Sonia, my wife, dutifully applied drops to his ears as prescribed. Little did we anticipate the news we were to get on Thursday after another visit to the pediatrician; the kind of news that every parent dreads to hear. Cancer. Our little boy had cancer.



After receiving his leukemia diagnosis and being admitted to a pediatric hospital that same day, a tortuous chemotherapy regimen would soon begin. The next Sunday night would be the first of many terrible nights, and watching him suffer so much left a wound on my soul that still hasn’t healed. Compounding our agony, well-intentioned relatives, friends, and strangers bombarded us with all sorts of advice regarding what to do to restore Gianmarco to health. They put everything on the table, from what hospital would be best to what he had to eat each day. Someone even implied taking him from the hospital so that he could receive some alternative treatment elsewhere. On social media, we quickly became familiar with research purporting to unmask the inefficacy of chemotherapy in contrast with curing cancer through the adoption of lifestyle changes related to nutrition. Apparently making endless rounds in various instant messaging apps, there is a string of misinformation about secret, recent, forgotten, or intentionally obfuscated cures for cancer. I was surprised to see that people whom I otherwise admire for their common sense, moral compass, or financial savvy fall for such easily refutable falsehoods and spread them amongst friends, family, and peers. There are, for example, several spurious announcements that the renowned Johns Hopkins Hospital has abandoned chemotherapy in favor of some alternative treatment or to promote the unmitigated prevention of cancer through a variety of nutritional habits and other lifestyle factors. Perhaps the most insidious aspect of these kinds of announcements is that they often mix ideas that would seem to make sense with subtle falsehoods. I never cease to be amazed by this. Why do obvious flaws in an announcement on such a serious topic not raise more doubt? How is it possible for statements that challenge the voice of experts bypass the scrutiny of otherwise intelligent

people? Something tells me it is both mental laziness and a desire to simplify what, in its complexity, escapes our comprehension. Don’t misunderstand, I still believe that those perpetuating this information are good people. Great people, even. Although some may disagree with my perspective, I implore us to take a step back when confronted with news like Gianmarco’s leukemia and consider what life is like at the moment for those suffering most.

FLAME | Spring 2018