Last year, Jaxon Piro was a normal 9-year-old boy, playing baseball, joking with his brothers and sister and dreaming of being a major-league baseball star.
Now, the boy whose world revolved around sports is in the fight of his life, literally.
The Strength for Jaxon 5K Run & 1 Mile Walk, partnered with the nonprofit group Hope 4 Lives, is slated for 9 a.m. March 10 at Kellogg-Zaher Park, 7701 W. Washington Ave. It will raise funds to help pay for medical expenses for Jaxon, who has inoperable brainstem tumors.
It all began with a headache he couldn't shake. It was followed by lethargy, vomiting and balance issues. He was seen by a couple of different doctors who could find nothing wrong. The family chalked it up to the flu, except their son didn't get better.
"We were like, 'I don't think the flu lasts this long, like two or three weeks,' " recalled Beth Breaz, his aunt.
Jaxon, a student at Givens Elementary School, 655 Park Vista Drive, attended a baseball game in Phoenix and felt so bad, he was taken to the emergency room. The diagnosis: dehydration.
He would get better, then relapse again. He felt so poorly that he didn't attend his younger brother's baseball game. So his brother, Bryce, stayed home with him while the family went to cheer on the team. Meghan Piro, his mother, received a frantic phone call while there, Breaz said.
"It was Bryce. He said, 'You've got to come home fast. Jaxon is having trouble seeing,' " she said.
Jaxon was raced to the hospital where, on March 26, he was diagnosed with anaplastic medulloblastoma, an aggressive cancer that attacks the brain. Two days later, he underwent a delicate, nearly five-hour surgery to extract the tumor from his brain. He celebrated his 10th birthday just a few days later at University Medical Center. It was quickly followed by chemotherapy and radiation treatments done in tandem. Later, he had more chemotherapy treatments.
The boy who was meticulous about his looks was now bald.
Within six months, a second tumor was discovered. Surgery was scheduled at Sunrise Children's Hospital. When the surgeons went in, they discovered a third tumor. That one was growing on his brainstem. It was inoperable. Since then, a fourth tumor, also on his brainstem, has been discovered.
Laurie Norman has been a family friend since before Jaxon was born.
"The poor kid's down to, like, 40 pounds," she said. "But he's got a strong will for life."
The Piro family turned to the Burzynski Clinic in Houston. It specializes in advanced alternative cancer treatments.
While the Burzynski Clinic was the family's best hope to beat anaplastic medulloblastoma, it also was the most expensive. Just the initial visit, Breaz said, cost $35,000, and subsequent treatments can run as much as $8,500 per month. Because they are experimental, the treatments are not covered by insurance.
"They drove there without having the money," Breaz said of her sister and brother-in-law, Steven. "They were (desperate). They went, 'Please, this is the last thing we can do for him.' "
Jaxon was put on the six- to eight-week program.
Family and friends have held various events to try to raise money for his medical bills. Fundraisers included a Dec. 8 poker tournament at the South Point and a Dec. 12 spaghetti dinner at the Willows Community Center.
Once he's undergone all the in-clinic treatments, he'll go home for another 12- to 18-month's worth of follow-up care.
Meanwhile, Jaxon remains in Houston. Pressure from one of the tumors has led to paralysis on his left side. His breathing is compromised, and drinking water risks aspirating it into his lungs. The latter condition led him to develop pneumonia and delayed his treatments.
"Right now, we're just holding our breath and waiting," Breaz said.
Jaxon has vowed that when he becomes a major-league baseball player, he is going to help others fighting cancer.
For more information, to sign up or to donate, visit strengthforjaxon.com.
Contact Summerlin/Summerlin South View reporter Jan Hogan at email@example.com or 387-2949.