The crystalline, green-blue ocean beckoned.
Max, 5 at the time, wasn’t interested.
It was July 2021, and the Anayas – Max, his two younger brothers, Leo, 3, and Lucas, 2, along with older sister Keira, 15, and father Luis and mother Lisbeth – were vacationing in La Paz, on the Baja California peninsula.
For a kid who practically lived at the beach back home in Southern California, Max’s disinterest in dipping into the 82 F-degree waters of La Paz was alarming.
He had complained about lower back pain. His parents thought it was from the two-day drive to the coastal city in Mexico.
“After the second day of him not wanting to go to the beach,” Luis recalls, “I definitely knew something was up.”
Luis drove Max to an emergency room in Cabo San Lucas, about 125 miles south, where his blood was analyzed.
The doctor told Luis he didn’t know what was ailing Max, but that his spleen and liver were swollen. He recommended Max stay for a week for observation.
Luis had enough medical background to be concerned. He was a Navy medic attached to a Marine unit who, between his service from 2002 to 2009, twice was deployed to Afghanistan.
The Anayas cut their summer vacation short and took Max to Naval Medical Center San Diego (NMCSD).
Emergency visit to CHOC
Max had more bloodwork done at NMCSD, but doctors there thought he had a virus or was getting over one.
Max’s diagnosis remained a mystery after they later saw their pediatrician.
About a month after the trip to La Paz, when Max’s back pain had worsened and he became even more lethargic, the Anayas took him to the Julia and George Argyros Emergency Department at CHOC Hospital.
“It was heartbreaking,” Luis says, “the worst news I’ve ever been told.”
Dr. Frediani started chemotherapy treatment on Max, who was a trooper when getting his chemotherapy port, a quarter-size reservoir through which medications go directly into a large vein.
“His energy and how he’s been dealing with all of this – my wife and I get our strength from him,” Luis says.
Nothing should put childhood on pause
In honor of September’s Childhood Cancer Awareness Month, please join us in making a gift to CHOC today. Together, we will give children battling cancer and other serious conditions the very best chance for a healthy future.
Oncology research studies at CHOC
As part of his chemotherapy care, Max was getting his blood and spinal fluid evaluated routinely. During his treatment at CHOC, Max’s parents Luis and Lisbeth agreed for some of these samples to be used in six research studies to advance the fight against childhood cancer.
Among pediatric and adolescent young adult cancer patients, improvements in survival have been attributed to enrollment in clinical trials. And such research can pay huge dividends for other patients down the line.
The promising studies Max has been enrolled in include some led by CHOC’s own doctors.
For example, one study is trying to reduce the potentially harsh side effects of the chemotherapy drug used to treat Max’s cancer. Another is looking at a possible marker in blood and spinal fluid that can indicate a loss of mental function during treatment. While a third is exploring why Hispanic children with acute leukemia, like Max, do not do as well on treatment as non-Hispanic children—and how to improve their outcomes.
Full of energy
Max’s treatment is going great, his parents say.
On a recent Zoom call, the now-7-year-old was bubbling with energy.
Max says he enjoys how CHOC treated him. He takes a pill daily at home and goes to the hospital for chemotherapy treatment every three months.
Max is scheduled to end his chemotherapy with us soon and is doing really well.
Lisbeth raves, “All of the nurses have been great. We are super happy with the treatment Max has received.” Luis adds, “Since day one, everyone’s been great. Everyone has treated us with respect.”
And when it comes to their young son, Luis confides, “His energy and how he’s been dealing with all of this—my wife and I get our strength from him.”
Max, in turn, is receiving tremendous strength from the love and support of his devoted family.
For instance, when he lost his hair because of the chemotherapy, Max’s dad and two brothers shaved their own heads in solidarity.
Max still doesn’t completely understand his condition.
Recently, he asked his father why he got sick.
“In Mexico, when he managed to go into the water once, he got hit by a wave and tossed around,” Luis says. “He thought that was the onset of all of this.”
No, it wasn’t. And hopefully soon, Max will be back celebrating at the beach.
The world-class care Max received at CHOC was designed just for his age group, and this highly personal care can only be provided through the support of our generous donors. Together, we can deliver truly extraordinary care today… and lead the way with exciting research to help the children of tomorrow.