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A Survivor's Story

Family Matters - Fall 2008

Jesus Santoyo

While many high school graduates were packing up for summer getaways, childhood cancer survivor, Jesus Santoyo, spent only one week free of school before he headed to Texas A&M University in College Station to get a jumpstart on his college degree. 

For Santoyo, transitioning to college life has brought its challenges, but the Houston native credits his cancer experience with helping him get through the adjustments.

“The classes I’m taking can be very hard, and sometimes I really have to focus on one at a time—but it will never be as hard as undergoing chemo,” says Santoyo. “With all the experiences and maturity I gained from having a stem cell transplant and surviving cancer, I’m now ready for the ‘college life’ on a whole new level.”

Santoyo had to work extra hard to graduate from Jefferson Davis High School on time. While taking eight classes, he also played the French horn in the band and participated in a computer training course as part of the Cisco Networking program. The average observer would not have known that less than two years ago Santoyo was depending on a double cord blood transplant to save his life.

Santoyo was diagnosed with acute mylogenous leukemia in March 2004 after experiencing weeks of feeling tired, looking pale and getting infections easily. By the time he arrived at the Children’s Cancer Hospital at M. D. Anderson, he was scared and knew that he had an uphill battle ahead of him. There to meet him was Michael Rytting, M.D., associate professor of pediatrics. Rytting, a pediatric oncologist who specializes in leukemia, laid out a six-month aggressive treatment plan to treat the rare form of childhood leukemia.

Throughout the six months, Santoyo spent the majority of the time in the hospital receiving treatment and being monitored for side effects...

“Staying in the hospital and not being able to go out in the public with my friends was tough. I was really down about having cancer,” says Santoyo. “Every day, though, a nurse or a doctor or a child life specialist would come in and make me laugh. That, and support from my family, got me through.”
His endurance paid off. After six months of treatment, Santoyo left the hospital in remission and ready get his life back on track, but everything slid to a halt in December 2005 when Santoyo found out he had relapsed.

Since chemotherapy had failed to keep Santoyo in remission, his doctors decided to proceed with a bone marrow transplant. On June 23, 2006, Santoyo received a double cord blood transplant. Now, more than a year later, the 17-year-old is resuming a normal life again, and he’s on a mission to better himself as a student.

The Texas A&M student aspires to earn a liberal arts degree and use it to help others achieve their goals.
“I live by the philosophy that you should never give up no matter how hard things get,” says Santoyo. “When things get hard with school or anything else, I’ll say to myself, ‘I’ve gotten through cancer, I can get through this for sure.’”

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