Edward DeLuna Jr. thrived off the memory of his late grandmother and his love for football. Those two things are what kept him motivated during his fight against bone cancer.
For 10 months he battled the disease, undergoing various amounts of chemotherapy treatment until a 14-hour surgery resulted in an infection at the surgery site.
Chemo was stopped for two months so he could properly heal. But it was during that time the cancer took hold of him.
Edward died Aug. 13 at age 18.
“The tumors just grew back,” said Shannon DeLuna, Edward’s mother. “It was kind of a fine line. We could keep doing chemo but then that would lower his counts and he could die from the infection, or we cure the infection but stop chemo. He didn’t have chemo long enough and they were growing at a crazy fast rate.”
Edward was diagnosed with Ewing Sarcoma, a rare form of cancer, in early October last year after suffering from pain in his pelvic area during practice with Westwood’s varsity football team. Multiple tests revealed a baseball-sized tumor.
Chemotherapy limited the growth of new tumors. But when he was forced to pause treatment, several more grew.
Shannon said one grew on the top of his skull. The one taken out during surgery in January on his thigh grew back.
Doctors were out of options. Edward was moved to Ryan’s House, a pediatric hospice care facility in Phoenix after a two-month stay in the hospital with few visitors allowed due to COVID.
His condition quickly deteriorated to the point where he was in constant pain.
The night he died, Shannon told him she and the rest of the family would be OK. She didn’t want him to be in pain anymore. As she left the room, Edward’s sister and father were the only ones who remained.
Shannon said he woke up and began to mumble as if he was speaking to someone before he drew his last breath.
She believes he was talking to his grandmother. Her picture was hung above his bed.
“I saw him and told him that if he wanted to keep fighting, we would do whatever it takes,” Shannon said. “But if he was in too much pain, I told him it was ok for him to be with Nana Rose. I believe she was there to help him get him over to the other side.”
Edward’s strength in his own battle encouraged others around him. The Westwood football team rallied around him in November when he was able to be with them on the sideline for the first time. The Warriors won that night over rival Mesa High.
His two younger brothers both followed in his footsteps playing football. Matthew, the closest to Edward in age, is on the Westwood roster this season. Kristofer, who played with Saguaro’s feeder program for several years, enrolled as a Sabercat.
But that decision didn’t come easy.
The family bleeds blue and orange. But Edward, who recognized the talent Kristofer has on the field, encouraged him to follow his teammates to Saguaro. He wanted what was best for him.
“(Edward) told him he would love for him to go to Westwood to follow in his and Matthew’s footsteps,” Shannon said. “But he knew he had already been playing with some of the Saguaro kids and he felt Kristofer would do great things there. He gave him advice.”
Edward graduated from Westwood in May. Due to his condition, he wasn’t able to attend.
Days before he passed away, Westwood Principal Chris Gilmore, Athletic Director Brady Pond and Special Education Site Leader Wendy Clifford held a private graduation ceremony for him at his hospice facility.
He was given his cap and gown, diploma and his No. 55 Westwood football jersey.
It was an emotional moment for not only Edward’s family, but for the Westwood administrators.
“It’s hard to explain because it was such a special moment and I wish he could’ve had more moments,” Pond said. “He embodies what we are here at Westwood. All he ever wanted was to be around his teammates. Playing football was awesome but being around his teammates is what set him apart. We wanted to make sure as a community we rallied around him.”
Pond said the school plans to hold a ceremony for Edward and his family during one of the football team’s home games this upcoming season.
Edward, even while not able to physically be present last season, was one of the key pieces to the Westwood football team. Head football coach Kyle Ide said the team wanted to play for him. They were ecstatic he was able to be with them for their final game of the season in 2020.
He motivated them and continues to do so today.
“Edward was such a great kid,” Ide said. “The good thing is he was able to come out and inspire the kids. How strong he was, how tough he was, we use that as motivation. We have some kids who were really close to him.
“Just a really great family and it’s hard.”
A GoFundMe has been set up in Edward’s honor. All proceeds will go toward his funeral. So far, nearly $3,400 has been raised in two days.
To make a donation: gofund.me/f8bf3135