Profile: Moreno a survivor

Anzar High junior James Moreno recently received news that his cancer was in remission. Moreno was one of the Hawks' top 3-point shooters last season. He is expected to play for the team next year.

A year ago, James Moreno was in the midst of the best basketball season in his career. Five months later, he was diagnosed with leukemia, a cancer of the body’s blood-forming tissues (leukemia hinders the body’s ability to fight infection). Moreno, an Anzar High junior who is being home-schooled this year due to cancer, was diagnosed on June 9, 2014, a week before his 16th birthday.
Talk about an unlucky No. 16. But amid the saddest news of his life, Moreno recently received perhaps the best news of his life—his cancer is in remission.
“Definitely a lot of tears and relief,” Moreno said. “The doctors told me the cancer is all gone, but I still have two weeks of chemotherapy treatments left.”
Moreno is undergoing a three-year treatment plan; once his chemo treatments are done, he’ll enter what is called a two-year maintenance phase involving oral medication that requires him taking 12 pills a day.
“Everything will be back to normal in two weeks, and I’m looking forward to that,” he said.
The diagnosis came after Moreno had the misfortune of vomiting for several hours, sending him to the ER.
“It all happened so quickly, and no one saw it coming,” he said. “It was devastating. It was horrible hearing the news. My whole world changed. It was scary.”
Fortunately for Moreno, his cancer was caught early. But Moreno still had to undergo a brutal road to recovery. During the toughest part of the punishing chemotherapy treatments, Moreno lost 30 pounds off his 150-pound frame.
“Chemo was horrible,” he said. “It gives you headaches all day and nausea.”
One of the most frightening moments of the treatment plan came when Moreno had to be semi-awake for a chemo injection into his bone marrow.
“I had a tumor in my chest, and they couldn’t put me to sleep because I might not wake up,” he said. “I could feel the little pressure of the needle in my chest, but not much else.”
During the toughest moments, all Moreno could do was survive. After all, he didn’t have a choice. But Moreno had an army of supporters constantly at his bedside cheering him on. His parents, Ceferino and Thelma, spent the night in the hospital for a couple of weeks, never leaving their youngest son alone.
The youngest of four boys, Moreno received plenty of pep talks from his three brothers: David, Ceferino III and John, who was a standout on the Anzar basketball team last season. Moreno is close to all of his brothers, especially John. Since they are only two years apart, James and John grew up playing basketball together, first in their native Philippines.
“They all gave me motivational talks, and they were all memorable,” James said. “My family and friends kept me going. The doctors told me (beating cancer) depends on attitude. That the cancer is already there, so you might as well fight it and beat it and have a positive attitude. It was a very hard obstacle that I don’t know how to put in words. I’m just really thankful that the worst part is over and that I’m able to spend time with my loved ones.”
In addition to his family and friends, Moreno had one other huge motivating factor to beat cancer: basketball. Even when Moreno hit rock bottom, basketball is what kept him going. Moreno actually started working out and playing basketball a month ago, albeit at a real easy pace.
“John is giving me exercises to get stronger and faster,” James said. “I know it’ll take time, but I want to get back to where I can finish a game strong. I can’t run that fast or long right now because I’m still weak, but I know I’ll get back to where I need to be.”
Moreno plans on attending classes at Anzar by February, a moment that will be special for obvious reasons. Moreno plans on earning a starting spot on the basketball team next year and walk with his fellow seniors for graduation, milestone moments indeed.
From time to time, Moreno envisions those moments, knowing how much he has overcome just to reach this point in life. He’ll think about all of the hard work he’s put in to get healthy again—one day at a time—and be forever thankful that he’s still living, knowing nothing is guaranteed.
Family. Friends. Basketball. That’s what inspired Moreno to keep going even during his darkest days. And now, he’s ready to come back strong.
“I’m just happy that I’m almost to the finish line,” he said. “One step closer to playing basketball. I can’t wait to get back on the court. I know I need to put in a lot of work this summer, but I can’t wait to shock people. I can’t wait.”

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