When Inés Aguirre noticed the pink-colored bump on her then 3-year-old son’s stomach, she didn’t think much of it.
“I thought it was a bug bite of some kind,” she said of the bump on her son, Noel’s, stomach. “I was more concerned about ants or spiders being in his room than about the bump itself.”
After three days when the bump didn’t reduce in size and began to discolor, Aguirre decided it was time to get it checked out.
“It wasn’t like ‘let’s rush him to the emergency room and figure this out,’” she said. “We just set up a visit with the pediatrician because we knew something was off, but we didn’t think it was worth getting too stressed out.”
Noel, normally an active 3-year-old boy, had begun to show signs of lethargy and irritability.
“He didn’t want to play outside anymore, he wasn’t jumping around the house or playing with his toys, and he would sleep for long hours,” she said. “I would have to wake him up from his naps because I didn’t want him to sleep through the night.”
A visit to their pediatrician proved fruitful, but also terrifying.
“As soon as he mentioned that he wanted to take some blood tests, I started to worry,” Aguirre said. “I calmed myself down by telling myself that it was just a standard thing. Something preventative. But it was around that time that I started to feel something was wrong.”
The blood test would reveal that Noel had a low number of blood cells and, as Aguirre feared, something far worse.
“They told me he had Acute Lymphocytic Leukemia,” she said.
It was the last word that stuck in her head and muffled out pretty much everything the doctor said afterward.
“I remember that day vividly up to that point, but after the diagnosis, I can honestly say I don’t remember anything,” she said. “I don’t remember how we got home, what we did after…my mind was just on another planet, I think.”
According to the American Cancer Society’s report titled Cancer Facts and Figures for Hispanics/Latinos 2018-2020, cancer is the leading cause of death among Hispanics, making up 21 percent of all deaths.
That said, cancer incidences among Hispanic are lower compared to non-Hispanic whites with some exceptions. Hispanics, for example, have lower rates of the four most common cancers (female breast, colorectal, lung and prostate) but higher rates of infection-related cancers (stomach, liver and cervical).
However, long-term U.S. residents and descendants of Hispanic immigrants - like Noel - have rates for some cancer types that approach or surpass those of non-Hispanic whites due to acculturation, according to the American Cancer Society.
For many, those types of analytic figures offer a view of risk from genetics and culture; for Aguirre, however, they offered very little.
“Once it affects you, it affects you,” she said. “You don’t care if your race or ethnicity is 20 percent more likely or 10 percent less likely or whatever. You just don’t care. All you know is your child is very sick and it’s going to take a lot of time, money and faith to get him better.”
Noel, now 17 and 12 years removed from full remission, was given the gift of resilience, according to Aguirre.
“There were definitely some trying times,” she said. “But he was strong. He was resilient. And everyone who treated him or talked to him always came back to me with a smile and positive news.”
With her son recently becoming the proud owner of a Colorado driver’s license, Aguirre’s worries have taken on a new, if far more common, form.
“I guess if he can survive cancer, he can survive driving in Colorado,” she said.