“I was oblivious to childhood cancer. Now I know we need more funding for research, more awareness, and more support for parents.”
–Monica, Devin’s Mom
Devin Rodriguez is used to being seen as tough. He loves to dress as the Predator, the fearsome alien from the popular action film, and attend conventions where super-fans gather to show off their costumes. But it’s only after he removes his mask that people understand how strong the seven-year-old really is: He’s a cancer survivor.
When Devin was six, he started having painful urinary symptoms. At first, his parents, Monica McGuiness and Aaron Rodriguez, suspected the obvious: a bladder or urinary tract infection. Tests at their local hospital in Stockton came back negative, and the doctor sent him home.
But something was clearly not right. Monica and Aaron took Devin to the emergency room, where an ultrasound revealed a mass—and Devin was immediately sent via ambulance to our Oakland campus.
Tests revealed Devin had stage IV rhabdomyosarcoma in his bladder, which had spread to his prostate and pancreas. The location of the mass was not conducive to surgery, so Devin was treated with radiation and chemotherapy, spending much of the next year at Children’s. But he endured the pain with a smile on his face.
“It was a roller coaster, but Devin just went with the flow,” Monica says. “When he was feeling good, he would just be Devin, and that made me so happy. When he was sick, he would say, ‘I don’t feel good, but it’s OK.’ He really cares about other people.”
Devin enjoyed taking part in activities offered by Child Life Services, like making slime and animated movies, meeting professional athletes (including Connor Cook and Lee Smith of the Oakland Raiders), and playing drums during music therapy.
“There were so many good times in the hospital, although it seems strange to say it, because of the staff, who we love,” Monica says.
Given his favorite hobby, the hospital’s Halloween party was a natural favorite. “He was sick, but he was so happy when he put that Predator costume on,” Monica says. “It was nice to see him in his element.”
With six other children, Monica and Aaron have relied on Devin’s older siblings to help care for the household, taking immense pride in how they stepped up to the plate. They’ve also been thankful for the support of their community: friends, neighbors, and hospital staff. In particular, they found comfort at the Family House, a home-away-from-home for families whose children are being treated at the hospital.
“The staff there is like a second family,” Monica says. “And you can talk to other parents who are going through the same thing. It’s nice to have that escape.”
After completing his last chemotherapy session at the end of June, the 7-year-old is settling back into regular life, returning to school as a second grader after having missed out on first grade.
For Monica, the experience has brought a new awareness of pediatric cancer and its impact on families.
“Before Devin got sick, I was oblivious to childhood cancer,” Monica says. “Now I know we need more funding for research, more awareness, and more support for parents.”