TRACY -- According to the American Cancer Society, about 12,060 children in the United States younger than 15 will be diagnosed with cancer in 2012.
The statistics are startling, but it is the faces behind the numbers that tell the true stories of struggle, heartbreak and triumph over this disease.
At the Tracy Relay for Life on Saturday, a little prince and princess for the fundraising event to fight cancer will be crowned for the first time -- Ryder Fitch, 2, and Sherley Villagomez, 8.
Ryder was diagnosed with retinoblastoma (retinal cancer) in both eyes. His family first learned of his cancer just two weeks after his first birthday.
"When Ryder was 6 months, he started to show signs of lazy eye," said Debbie Powell, Ryder's grandmother. "A little later on we noticed other signs, like Ryder walking into walls. At the doctor's we were told that Ryder's retinas were detached and tumors were found in both eyes, the right eye had the largest one. I read that only about 300 kids a year get this cancer and about 50 get it in both eyes."
Ryder received seven months of specialized chemotherapy at UCSF Medical Center. The treatment was isolated to just his eyes and was performed via a catheter that was inserted to his optic nerves. He is only the fourth patient at this medical center to have had this type of treatment performed. The cancer cost Ryder the loss of his right eye, and he now wears a prosthetic one.
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Sherley Villagomez, a second-grader at Central Elementary School, was first diagnosed with rhabdoid cancer in June. A tumor was found in the soft tissue area within her jaw. Sherley had her first surgery that same month and started chemo and radiation treatments in July. The Villagomez family also took Sherley to UCSF Medical Center for her regular treatments.
"Getting cancer was scary," Sherley said. "If I meet another kid going through cancer, I will say to them, 'Don't give up.' "
On Saturday, Sherley and Ryder will attend their local Relay for Life, at which they will receive special recognition and be crowned the very first prince and princess. Opening ceremonies will take place at 10 a.m. at Kimball High School, 3200 Jaguar Run, in Tracy.
Reach Anne Marie Fuller at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Relay for Life event begins with opening ceremonies at 10 a.m. Saturday at Kimball High School, 3200 Jaguar Run, Tracy. For details, go to www.relayforlife.org.