A new perspective

Name: Nicholas Vega Age at diagnosis: 16 years Diagnosis: Osteosarcoma How Family Reach helped: Grants for mortgage payments In June 2010, Paul Vega received a call from his son’s orthopedist, who said that an MRI had revealed a tumor growing on 16-year-old Nicholas’ femur. Nicholas’ pediatrician quickly arranged an appointment with an oncologist at The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP) for that afternoon. A biopsy confirmed that the tumor was malignant, and Nicholas was diagnosed with osteosarcoma. Paul and his wife, Edith, were overwhelmed. “It’s earth-shattering!” said Paul. “A lot goes through your mind. It’s like being hit by a truck. You have this big bang and then you just try to recover.” Nicholas began a 10-week cycle of inpatient chemotherapy to shrink the tumor, which brought challenging side effects, including nausea, loss of appetite, and weight loss. Nicholas and his family also endured emergency, unplanned inpatient hospitalizations when he developed infections. After chemotherapy, surgery was performed to remove the tumor and salvage the limb. Half of Nicholas’ femur was removed, including the knee, in order to ensure that no cancer remained. As part of the limb salvage, Nicholas received prosthesis. Physical therapy followed. While an analysis of the tumor indicated that the initial chemotherapy had produced the hoped-for results, another 18 weeks of chemotherapy followed in order to destroy any rogue cancer cells. Paul described Nicholas as coping “very bravely…I was very proud of Nicholas. I was impressed with how well he handled a difficult situation.” Like many families coping with cancer, the Vega family felt a strain on their finances. Paul had been laid off immediately prior to Nicholas’ diagnosis. Edith then had to quit her job in order to care for Nicholas. In addition, there were new expenses associated with Nicholas’ treatment, including mounting co-pays and expenses from traveling to the hospital. In collaboration with pediatric oncology social workers from CHOP, Family Reach provided grants to cover mortgage payments. The Vega family was tremendously relieved to have this major expense covered. Paul said, “It was great! It was a huge relief, because with the stresses of not having jobs and the unknown of all these medical expenses and worrying about making ends meet, it was a relief to know that this [mortgage expense] was covered.” The Vegas’ neighbors organized a fundraiser that helped the family. The outpouring of support from Family Reach, neighbors, and strangers really moved Paul and his family. Paul remembers, “I’ve seen the good in so many people. So many people stepped up to the plate and came to help. It’s amazing how many people are out there and how many people care…. All the good that’s out there just restored my faith.” The harshest reality of all set in when Nicholas lost his battle after many years of demanding treatment. Family Reach stuck by his family, who focused on the positives of their situation. “The one thing I want to do is give back,” Paul said. “I know how it feels to get help and I want to help other families.” Witnessing Nicholas’ battle with cancer also fundamentally changed Paul’s perspective on life. “Just to be able to walk to a corner…just to be able to breathe the fresh air…you look at things differently,” he said. “You appreciate things so much more.” Last update: July 31, 2014