Student fights rare form of cancer

Delaney Lemus is one of 500 people diagnosed with Wilms' tumor each year. "She was getting her education and just trying to get a good start in life," Delaney's father, Luis Lemus, Jr. said. Courtesy photo.

Delaney Lemus completed her first year at Cal Poly as an agriculture business major without knowing she wouldn’t be returning back in the fall.

Up to this point, she was very active and athletic. She was a very happy person, always joking around, and before recent events, enjoyed playing volleyball and hanging out at the beach with her friends, her father Luis Lemus, Jr. said.

But Delaney is one of the many college-aged young adults who find themselves battling cancer while attempting to get a start on life.

According to the LIVESTRONG Young Adult Alliance, a program started by the Lance Armstrong Foundation, there has been no improvement in survival rates for young adults since 1975. This is also complicated by whether they are put into adult or pediatric care — in the world of cancer research, the term “young adult” encompasses anyone from 15 to 39 years old, with about 70,000 cases each year.

Resources for young adults with cancer can be found over the Internet, from the National Collegiate Cancer Foundation, which provides financial support for college students going through treatment. Each focuses on the underrepresented young adult cancer patients and survivors, helping them get through not being able to go to school, to work or to live the life they dreamed of — before cancer reared its ugly head.

For Delaney, there were no signs of the cancer at first. She was very active but complained about back pains and couldn’t eat much before getting full. There was also the tiny lump in her abdomen. Her parents finally took her to see a doctor. In August 2009, the tests revealed she had a rare form of childhood cancer in the kidneys. It came as a total surprise to her father.

“The only thing I know about cancer is it’s bad,” Lemus said.

She had a rare form of cancer called Wilms’ tumor.

There are only about 500 new cases each year of Wilms’ tumors, which accounts for five percent of all childhood cancers, according to the American Cancer Society.

The cause is not from the environment or her lifestyle, and it could not be prevented. What sets her apart is that the average age of a child diagnosed with Wilms’ tumor is 3, and it becomes less common as the child ages. Delaney was 19 when she found out.

“She was getting her education and just trying to get a good start in life,” Lemus said.

They took her to the University of California, San Francisco Benioff Children’s Hospital, where she had the tumor and her kidney removed. After months of chemotherapy and radiation, Delaney’s cancer went into remission, and she resumed her old pastimes.

“She bounced back and played in a volleyball city league,” Lemus said.

In December 2010, after nine months of remission, they found the second tumor in her other kidney, bigger than the last.

“We had a few setbacks, (the doctors) tried to do aggressive chemotherapy to shrink it,” Lemus said. “(It was) applying pressure to her lungs and heart.”

During treatment, she got an infection that led to kidney failure. On Jan. 31, they operated to remove the tumor. She suffered severe blood loss and was in critical condition.

“It was a desperation surgery, they had no choice,” Lemus said. “They were able to get 95 percent of the tumor out.”

Despite all that has happened, Delaney has held on. She is still in the hospital, about to undergo more chemotherapy and radiation. She’s also been going through physical therapy and has started eating small amounts, smiling and laughing.

She didn’t speak for seven weeks while on the ventilator but now can talk with her sisters, who visit her often, Lemus said. Her father called the whole thing an “emotional rollercoaster” where they didn’t know what was around the next turn. Things are starting to go his daughter’s way again, though.

The community recently came together in support of the young woman and her family. Her friends banded together and created a Facebook group, Twitter and website called “Let’s Support Laney!” Well-wishers can post fundraising events and comments for Delaney on the website. There are currently 565 members of the Facebook group.

Other than Web page backing, Delaney is also garnering support with weekend fundraisers.

In the pouring rain last week, people came to the small parking lot by the Nipomo Miner’s Hardware store, between a drive-thru Starbucks and Taco Bell, to pay for drinks, chips and tri-tip sandwiches with $10 donation tickets. Carol Mahoney, a relative on her mother’s side, has been overseeing fundraising efforts for Delaney.

“They were drenched trying to get these tickets,” Mahoney said.

Her husband and other family members cooked 1,000 pounds of tri-tip and sold about 2,200 sandwiches altogether that day.

There will also be a blood drive during the second week of March at the United Blood Services Center for Delaney, who will need approximately 80 units of blood. On March 12, they will hold another barbecue and silent auction at St. Patrick’s Catholic Elementary School in Arroyo Grande.

Monica Wilson, a hair stylist at Tutta Bella Salon in Arroyo Grande, is participating in the silent auction. She donated hair products and a haircut for the fundraiser because, she said, everyone should do their part since every little bit helps.

“I just hope somehow they can help her,” Wilson said. “It’s got to be really hard for her and her family.”

In the end, the Lemus family is grateful for all the help the community has given.

“It’s a good, positive feeling for Delaney, and we just can’t say thank you enough,” her father said.

Any donations can be sent by checks payable to: “Delaney Lemus Benefit” c/o Rabobank, 615 Tefft St., Nipomo, CA 93444.

Originally published in the Mustang Daily.