It started with a stomach ache. Then, Mario Quezada, 10, began feeling weak and extremely fatigued.
“When he became too tired to play sports at school, I knew something was very wrong,” says Mario’s mother, Miriam. “He loves sports.”
A trip to the family doctor resulted in multiple medical tests, then bad news: Mario had leukemia. That’s when his MD Anderson Children’s Cancer Hospital journey began.
The fourth-grader underwent aggressive chemotherapy treatments and missed the last two weeks of school. His parents and teachers coordinated Mario’s lessons with MD Anderson’s accredited K-12 in-hospital school so he could continue his 5th grade education at home while continuing to battle cancer.
The journey was rough, but Mario, now 16, finished treatment and has been cancer free for three years. He comes back to MD Anderson every three months for follow-up care.
During his days at the hospital, Mario became involved with imPACT, the Patient Advisory Council for Teens. The group is made up of patients and survivors ages 13 to 18 who work to improve the hospital experience for pediatric patients.
“Being part of imPACT was the only good thing about getting cancer,” says Mario, now a high school junior. “I met other teens who had cancer and made some really good friends.”
While participating in imPACT, Mario weighed in on the kid-friendly redesign of the Children’s Cancer Hospital. When technology was upgraded in Kim’s Place, the hospital’s teen rec room, he offered advice about what teenagers like. And he helped select themes for the hospital’s annual prom. But his proudest moment as an imPACT member was when he helped create a comic book series about teen cancer for newly diagnosed peers.
The five-book series was based on ideas and content contributed by Mario and other members of imPACT.
“It was a long, but cool project,” says Mario. “The comic books let us share our stories with teens who are just like us.”