Whenever Edward DeLuna Jr. feels defeated from his battle with bone cancer, he thinks of two of the things he loves the most: football and his late grandmother.
Football is a sport Edward and his three brothers always gravitated toward. Their grandmother, Rose Stewart, was always there to cheer them on. Stewart’s sudden passing last year was challenging for Edward and the rest of his family. At one point, he thought that was the toughest bout with adversity he’s ever faced in his life.
Now over two months into his diagnosis with a rare form of bone cancer called Ewing Sarcoma, he uses his grandmother and the sport he loves as motivation for the newest challenge in his life.
“I just think of how she would want me to keep fighting,” Edward said. “She wouldn’t want me to give up, and I’m not. I look at it as cancer got up a couple touchdowns on me in the first half but now, I’m putting points on the board.”
Edward was diagnosed with the rare form of cancer in early October, just before what was supposed to be the start of his senior season at Westwood. He began experiencing pain in his pelvic area in late September. Doctors first thought it was related to his rapid growth.
But the pain quickly became unbearable. He couldn’t practice with his team and while taking a shower one day the pain became so intense it brought him to his knees.
He laid in the shower for an extended period of time, crippled by the sudden onset of intense pain.
“We knew right then it wasn’t related to his growth,” said his mother, Shannon. “We took him to Phoenix Children’s, and they admitted him for a pelvic fracture. They ran every test in the book — MRI, cat scan, X-ray — everything.”
The tests revealed a baseball-sized tumor growing in his pelvic area. A couple of days later, more tests revealed it was the rare aggressive form of bone cancer.
“Doctors said because of how aggressive the cancer is, we had to be aggressive back,” Shannon said.
Edward has since gone through a variety of treatments in an effort to shrink the size of the tumor to the size of a golf ball. At that point, doctors will attempt to remove it before starting radiation to kill any leftover cancer cells.
On Thursday, Dec. 3, he completed his fourth round of chemotherapy. He typically is able to talk about football or other hobbies with nurses or Shannon while going through treatment. But she was forced to leave the hospital after her daughter tested positive for COVID-19.
Due to Edward’s weakened immune system, he is more susceptible to serious illness should he catch the virus. His mom, luckily, tested negative. But was still asked to leave out of precaution.
“It’s been so difficult,” Shannon said, referring to the extra measures taken by the family to limit Edward’s potential exposure.
“It’s been a lot of back and forth. But not only that, it’s making sure the house stays clean and making sure nobody brings any germs to him. (Doctors) tell him to be normal and to see his friends but to also be careful because of COVID. It’s been extremely difficult.”
Edward elected to do outpatient treatment to be with his family more. He makes the trip from his Mesa home to Phoenix Children’s on a daily basis. To him, it’s worth the commute. As long as he is able to spend time with his five siblings, it gives him a sense of normalcy.
In some ways, it allows him to feel closer to the game of football. His younger brother, Matthew, plays for Westwood, and the two will commonly talk about all things Warrior football. That is, when the Arizona Cardinals aren’t playing.
Due to his condition, Edward has been forced to remain away from the team this season. But ahead of Westwood’s final game on Friday, Nov. 20, he received a call inviting him to the sideline. While he said he didn’t have the energy he would have liked to have while cheering on his team, it was a blessing just to be in attendance for his team’s win over district-rival Mesa.
“I’m really glad I was able to make it out there,” Edward said. “Even though I didn’t have a lot of energy and walking was even tiring for me, I loved every minute. That’s like family to me. And to see they won, it made it even better.”
Edward’s determination to face his diagnosis head on has been among the most impressive feats of his journey thus far. Shannon said treatment will likely take a year.
But through every obstacle, every moment of weakness where he or one of his family members breaks down, Edward rallies.
And no matter how weak or sick he becomes due to his treatment, he vows to continue fighting until the final whistle blows and he comes out on top. It’s what his grandmother would have expected from him.
“I’m going to beat cancer. I’m going to win this game,” Edward said. “I keep reminding myself each day I have people supporting me. I have my family, I have the team, I have the school.
“I have a ton of people supporting me and I’m going to make it.”
Edward’s little brother, Matthew, a sophomore at Westwood, set up a GoFundMe Thursday to help pay for some of his brother’s medical expenses. They hope to raise $5,000. To make a donation, visit https://gf.me/u/za86g4.