Pablo’s LampStrong Hero story started in the later part of 2017. He was 18 years old at the time. Pa, as he is affectionately referred to by his family and friends, played soccer all the time. He concedes that he played for the Chicago Fire Development Academy. His penchant seemed to be that he was most comfortable in the midfield, supporting his attacking teammates. As such, he did a lot of running.
One day, during play, he rolled his ankle. The ankle sprain was bad enough that it kept him off the pitch. The injury turned into one of those nagging ones that just don’t seem to heal. Given that the injury persisted well beyond the time that he should have been back to full play, an evaluation by an orthopedist was warranted. An X-Ray was taken. This is when things started to unravel. Pa’s unstable ankle was not the result of damaged ligaments. Something did not look right with the bone. Just like that, in the blink of an eye, following an MRI and bone biopsy, the horrible truth emerged. Pablo had osteosarcoma of the right calcaneus.
The calcaneus is a fancy name for the heel bone. Osteosarcoma is a rare cancer of the bone. It is serious stuff, and if left untreated it will spread to other bones and to the lungs. It arises from newly forming bone cells; hence its sudden appearance is often seen in teenagers that are undergoing “growth spurts”. Treatment involves chemotherapy followed by surgery.
At the time Pa didn’t know it, but he would be facing 37 weeks of chemotherapy, a below the knee amputation, another surgery to revise his stump, a short rehab stint (he didn’t need much time to learn to negotiate crutches or master ambulating with a prosthesis), and a life in which he will forever be distinguished as a cancer survivor.
Throughout the incremental triumphs of treatment and devastating setbacks of the same, Pa never hung his head in despair. He never thought of dying. If for only for the sake of his family and friends, he refused to outwardly express hopelessness. When asked if he had a message to other young adults and adolescents confronted with cancer, he responded in characteristic positive form. In so many words, he stated that keeping a positive attitude is paramount. In tandem with a positive mind set is the fixation of a goal. Pa’s goal was to return to the soccer pitch as a player. He vowed to his mother that he would.
In the manner that only a teenager transitioning into adulthood can, Pa coveted a special pair of soccer boots. These cleats were special. They were silver with bright yellow studs. An eye-catching pink Nike “swoosh” adorned the medial aspect of each shoe. Best of all, these were the boots that Neymar da Silva Santos Junior wore. Regardless of cancer diagnosis, Pablo had to have those boots. Lust overpowered reason, and with a little outside help, he bought them. These “Neymar boots” stand firm in representing Pa’s avowed goal of returning to the soccer pitch.
Pa is now cancer free. He wants to be a teacher and he wants to coach soccer. In this regard, he is succeeding. He has graduated from Oak Forest High School. He is beginning his journey towards a teaching degree at Moraine Valley Community College. As if that was not enough, he coaches the Junior Varsity team at his high school alma matter.
Best of all, Pa played as a first-time alumnus in this Fall’s pre-season Oak Forest High Alumni vs. Varsity soccer match. In the case that you might have seen the game, the guy sporting the fancy silver, yellow and pink cleats was Pa.