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Cancer survivor inspires others while training for Tour de Summerlin

James Sernas, 22, could be the poster person for the Candlelighters. He is approaching the five-year mark of his treatment, beating back cancer that came out of nowhere.

Now that he’s finished his treatment, Sernas plans to participate in the Tour de Summerlin on April 26, raising funds for the Candlelighters Childhood Cancer Foundation of Nevada.

Set for The Vistas Park, 11311 Alta Drive, the Tour de Summerlin will offer three routes: 40, 75 or 100 miles. Both the 75-mile and 100-mile events are set for 7 a.m. and the 40-mile for 8:30 a.m. More than 500 cyclists are expected to participate.

This year’s goal for the official team, Riders For Candlelighters Kids, is to raise $100,000 for children affected by cancer. To date, it has raised more than $57,500.

Always athletic, Sernas grew up playing sports. He liked baseball so much, he continued playing after graduating from Eldorado High School, 1139 N. Linn Lane.

So, when his hands and arms began bruising soon after a game, he shrugged it off as the rigors of playing the sport.

“I was getting tired a lot, but I thought it was just because I was busy,” he said. “Then one day when I was working out, I got these bruises on my hand. I was taking anatomy and physiology (at the College of Southern Nevada), and I asked one of my professors, and he said, ‘You probably just popped a blood vessel or something.’ “

But it was more than that. His lymph nodes became swollen. Sernas began bleeding spontaneously. When his nose bleeds wouldn’t stop, he went to the emergency room. Sernas, 19 at the time, was held overnight while tests were run. The diagnosis was leukemia.

“I wasn’t scared or anything,” he said. “ … I was like, ‘I’m young. I can handle this.’ “

His mother had a different reaction.

“I was so surprised, I just started crying,” his mother, Lucina Cortez, said. “He told me, ‘Don’t cry. Everything’s going to be just fine.’ “

Sernas underwent aggressive treatment at the Comprehensive Cancer Centers of Nevada. There were daily pills to take, injections and infusions of chemotherapy.

The chemotherapy was injected directly into his spine, a six-hour ordeal that required him to be anesthetized. Sernas also had radiation sessions. He lost his hair twice.

Perhaps because of his fitness level, Sernas kept his job at the Wynn Las Vegas and didn’t miss a lot of school.

Each time he bounced back after chemotherapy, keeping up his fitness levels. He was so fit, he ran a half marathon last fall.

“It was an excuse to get myself out of the house,” he joked. “It’s stressful (dealing with cancer), and that kind of got the stress out.”

His ability to keep working out amazed others.

“James is an amazing young man who continues to awe all of us at Candlelighters,” said Melissa Cipriano, executive director for Candlelighters. “This is our fifth season of Riders For Candlelighters Kids, and James is the first participant that I have seen train while in treatment for his cancer. The fact that he is participating in endurance events speaks volumes for his fight and determination against this devastating disease.”

He said he doesn’t think about the cancer except to wonder how much stronger or faster he’d be if he didn’t have it.

It also has changed the way he sees his fellow man.

“I used to look at the world and think everyone was selfish,” Sernas said. “But know I’ve seen all these people who care, (doing things) just to help people out, and that’s what drives me.”

He finished his treatments in February and is continuing his studies in molecular biology at UNLV. He lives in the northwest.

Entry fees for the Tour de Summerlin are $80 for the 100-mile event and $75 for the 75-mile and 40-mile events. The fee includes an event commemorative T-shirt, aid station food and drinks and a post-ride luncheon. Registration closes at noon April 24.

For more information or to register, visit tourdesummerlin.com or call 702-252-8077.

For more information about the Candlelighters, visit candlelightersnv.org.

Contact Summerlin Area View reporter Jan Hogan at jhogan@viewnews.com or 702-387-2949.

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