Rodolfo “Angel” Sotelo Jr., son of Rodolfo Sotelo and Alma Robles, was first diagnosed three years ago when his mother took him to a doctor’s office in Modesto to see if he had an eye infection.
Robles said the child had watery, droopy eyes with red dots in the corner. She became concerned and took him to the doctor’s office for an eye exam immediately. She noticed something was wrong when the first doctor asked the opinion of other doctors in the building to confirm their suspicions. A mass had accumulated in the boy’s eyes, which is one of the more common symptoms of Neuroblastoma.
“It was heartbreaking,” said Robles. “I was so nervous. I thought if they were to give him medicine, he would be okay. We didn’t know it would be cancer.”
Sotelo was only 2-years-old at that time and was kept under close quarters for a month.
Since then, Sotelo has been in and out of the hospital, battling stage four cancer. Although Sotelo has been under close watch, he tries to not let his sickness get in the way of his childish exuberance and love for life. His favorite movies are Disney Pixar’s Toy Story and Cars.
The community was able to see firsthand Sotelo’s remarkable stride when the family celebrated his fifth birthday party at a local park in Patterson on June 14. Community members, including people who have never met the family before, came together to celebrate the boy’s birthday with presents, potluck items and three birthday cakes.
Residents continued to show their support on June 15 as they set up a carwash near the historic downtown plaza to raise funds for the family. Citizens who were unable to buy a wash were able to donate their time, soap, buckets, cloths and a pressure spray.
Despite being a Modesto resident, Sotelo has found many friends in Patterson who are willing to help, both financially and emotionally. Nearly 250 Patterson residents came to show their support, offer free labor, or donate toys, money, utilities and food during that weekend alone.
“We’ve always wanted to do something close to home in Modesto to raise money,” said Robles, “but there wasn’t that support that we have here [in Patterson]. I’m very thankful for what I’ve received, and the time people put in to help us.”
Although many inhabitants from Patterson contributed to the family, two residents in particular were key to bringing the community together: Sandy Luna and Rosa Castrejon.
Bridging a gap
Luna first became aware of Sotelo’s condition after meeting with Sotelo’s aunt, Castrejon of Patterson. The two met at a literacy program in Walnut Grove months ago before becoming quick friends. They shared many stories together, but one topic Castrejon always touched upon was her sister’s bravery, although she never discussed the specific horrors that were facing her family.
Luna didn’t understand what Castrejon meant about her sister’s bravery and eventually began to probe the story until she scratched past the surface. Luna found out Castrejon’s sister had a young boy who was struggling with a cancer related illness.
Luna knew firsthand what it felt like to lose someone to cancer in her family, and didn’t want her new friendship to succumb to that same loss. She was determined to meet the boy, although she did not have a clear indication at that time what her support would mean to the family.
“It’s the same with the literacy program. No matter who you are, or where you come from, there are people who want to help,” said Luna. “As soon as I met Angel, he stole my heart.”
Luna also said as soon as she saw the boy, something “clicked” that made her more determined to help the family. She thought about an earlier pregnancy she had that resulted in a miscarriage after eight months of carrying the child.
“As a mother, I would do all I can to make sure that no mother ever has to lose her child,” said Luna.
“I was determined. It was like my son was telling me, ‘Go, help him,’” said Luna. “Something spiritual happened, something more power than anything I’ve felt before. I could relate to him.”
Luna sought immediate help from local friends and families in the community, and found that they were all just as eager to help the young family.
“A lot of people could relate to this story,” said Luna. “I’ve had one neighbor, Olga, tell me, ‘I wish I could take his sickness out of him and put it into me. I’d be able to handle it better and I have more strength. I pray to God that he will give me his sickness.’ He’s just a little boy… You can see he wants to live. The support is there. It is powerful.”
Despite the overwhelming support, the family has had to push past hurdles to keep their hopes alive.
Cost of living
The three-year battle against cancer has not been an easy one, according to Robles. Sotelo’s most recent relapse was in Sept. 2012, and the remission is still taking place, she said.
Sotelo also had two bone marrow transplants, and is unable to acquire many treatment options due to his young age.
“Most kids who have done treatments for this cancer didn’t respond well to the medicine,” said Robles. “There isn’t too much known about this cancer.”
“They are experimenting what works and what doesn’t,” added Castrejon. “He is becoming more allergic to normal things because of the treatment.”
Money is also tight, according to Robles, who relies on her husband’s landscaping career to pay all the bills while she keeps a tight watch on their son. The family also receives a government check from the cancer society for $300 a year, said Robles.
“It just isn’t enough,” said Robles.
“How can anyone think about working when you are dealing with this, anyway,” said Luna. “She should only worry about her son, but there are all these things that need to be taken care of. They are doing all they can to enjoy their son and get by. That’s why I’m proud the community came together for something that really matters.”
The small family attempted to move in with Robles’ mom when the funds ran dry, but soon found that living with so many people depleted the boy’s health.
“I have seven brothers and sisters, so every time they breathed, they were getting Angel infected,” said Robles. “We had to move to Modesto.”
Luna encourages anyone who is willing to offer his or her time, belongings or prayers to join in the effort.
“Once I got to know them, and saw their hearts, I knew they deserved a lot better. I hope she will never to have worry about expenses,” said Luna.
Sotelo will begin his seventh round of chemotherapy next month.
Due to their recent success in Patterson, the Sotelo family is eager to host another carwash or yard sale to pay for future finances if they can garner enough community support.
“I thank everyone for their support. There are good-hearted, generous people in Patterson,” said Robles. “I thank you, from the bottom of my heart.”
To donate your time, belongings or money, please contact Robles at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Contact Brooke Borba at 892-6187, ext. 24, or email@example.com