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Boy fights leukemia with help from friends, family

By: Michelle Miller-Carl Journal News Editor
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If Dominic Ramos is able to muster the strength to walk to the kitchen and poke around for snacks in the cupboard — it’s been a good day. But for the 9-year-old boy who used to ride his bike around his north Auburn neighborhood and run up and down the soccer fields at Regional Park, leukemia has certainly taken its toll. “When I was active, I liked playing soccer. I was on a basketball team,” said Dominic, slumped over on the couch and wrapped in a soccer ball fleece blanket. After nearly a month in the hospital, Dominic is home and now spends most of his time in bed, his body weakened from treatments. The worst part is the medicine, he said. “I hate the medicine because of the side effects,” Dominic said. “And not being able to walk around on my own. My parents have to be near me or I might fall.” Dominic is dealing with things most 9-year-olds don’t have to worry about, but his family, friends and doctors are supporting him so one day soon he can feel like a kid again. A can turned upside down His parents first noticed something wasn’t right with Dominic in late December when the family went snowboarding. “He had a lack of energy. He wasn’t as enthusiastic as he was in the past,” said his mom, Ileana Ramos. “His color was pale, really pale, almost gray.” When he started playing ARD youth basketball this season, he was always the last one to catch up with his teammates as they ran across the court. Instead of playing outside, he just wanted to stay in and play his Lego Batman video game. Ileana Ramos and her husband, Arnold Ramos, deliberated over what was wrong with their eldest son. “We kept tossing it back and forth and talking about it at night,” she said. “Sometimes a 9-year-old just wants to play video games. (Leukemia) was not one of the things that came to our minds.” They made an appointment with his pediatrician and when lab work came back they knew — Dominic had T-cell acute lymphocytic leukemia. The next day, Jan. 21, Dominic was checked into the Sutter Memorial Hospital’s pediatric oncology unit in Sacramento, where he would spend the next three and a half weeks. Earlier that week, Dominic and his father were excited to go see a monster truck jam in Sacramento. The tickets went unused. “In an hour, our lives changed,” Ileana Ramos said. “It’s like a can that was just dumped over and everything just spilled.” Popcorn chicken and pizza Instead of making normal blood cells, Dominic’s body is manufacturing leukemic cells. “A normal person makes white blood cells that circulate in the blood for weeks and then die,” said his doctor, Dr. Sandy Hsu, a pediatric hematologist/oncologist with Sutter Memorial Hospital. “In leukemia, the genes that control the growth and survival of the cell are mutated, so it starts to divide and grow uncontrolled and squeezes out the normal blood cells, and that’s what causes complications.” Leukemia is the most common type of childhood cancer, he said, with around 3,000 to 4,000 diagnoses in the U.S. each year. But thanks to advancements in cancer treatment, Hsu said there is a good chance of curing Dominic through treatment. “We already know that it’s working,” he said. “The goal is to kill off every single leukemia cell down to the last cell so it never comes back.” In the hospital, Dominic underwent numerous tests and procedures, including bone marrow aspirations, where needles were stuck into his hip to extract marrow, and chemotherapy treatment. Although he couldn’t wear jewelry during the proceedures, Ileana Ramos still tucked Dominic’s cross necklace inside his pocket. “He has been surprisingly accepting,” Arnold Ramos said of his son. “The spinal tap, bone marrow aspiration — he just takes it. He’ll say, ‘I don’t want to,’ but he does it.” During the hospital stay there were bright spots — visits from friends. His Auburn hairstylist Annette Rich came to the hospital to give Dominic a Mohawk when he started losing his hair. Amgen Tour of California cyclists visited Dominic when the bike race prologue was in Sacramento. Dominic’s 4th grade class at Weimar Hills School brought him a friendship quilt with drawings of their faces. Friends and family dropped off popcorn chicken and potato wedges from KFC and Chicago Fire pizza, two of his many cravings. The family is grateful for all the support, from prayers and meals to people willing to look after the the couple’s two other children, 7-year-old Sofia and 4-year-old Angelo. Dominic’s youth basketball team The Heat even dedicated their season to him, adopting a new post-huddle chant, “Dominic!” Longtime family friend Jená Kline is organizing a donation drive for Dominic. “I felt so helpless. I wanted to do something and that was really the only thing I can do,” she said. “I can’t change the situation and I know things are tight for everybody these days, and I know how medical bills can affect a family.” A family bound together Since Dominic returned home, Ileana Ramos, a stay-at-home mom, and Arnold Ramos, a nurse at Sutter Auburn Faith Hospital, have been at Dominic’s side constantly. His parents are mostly on food and medicine duty — the medicine being the tricky part. “He can’t swallow a pill,” Arnold Ramos said. “As soon as (his Prednisone pill) gets in his mouth it starts dissolving and this is nasty stuff.” So he created his own concoction for Dominic — the crushed pill mixed with cherry and sour apple flavoring. Dominic chases it with chocolate milk. The medicine has made Dominic, who was once a picky eater, insatiably hungry. His first request when he returned home was won ton soup. He craves mozzarella sticks, bagels and french fries. His grandmother even dug out an old recipe for “ojaldas,” a fried bread from her native Panama. His parents are trying not to spoil him. His mom has to “law down the law” when Dominic tells his brother to be quiet in “not-so-nice” language. Dominic is appreciative of all the support he’s been given. “Thanks for giving all the wonderful gifts and prayers, especially the prayers,” Dominic said, tapping the two intravenous lines dangling from his right arm. Then he turns to his mom and reveals the first thought on his mind. “Can I have my lollypop now?” This year will be drastically different for Dominic. No soccer camp. No family trips to Giants baseball games this spring. Since his immunity is compromised, his parents are trying to keep him away from large crowds. Arnold Ramos is currently spending nights in his son’s room. He rises to get Dominic Fruit Loops or any of his other cravings every couple hours. “We have late night talks. I tell him we’re going to do this or we’re going to go fishing,” Arnold Ramos said. “There’s times where he says, ‘Why me?’ And I tell him it’s not just you. There are many little kids out there who are cancer patients, too. I got cancer seven years ago. It helps him think there’s hope. He doesn’t think this is the end. Things can change.” The Journal’s Michelle Miller-Carl can be reached at michellem@goldcountrymedia.com. ---------- How to help Help Fill Dominic’s Bottle Donations for Dominic Ramos will be accepted now through March 8 at Café Vista, 17100 Placer Hills Road in Meadow Vista, and All Seasons Pools & Spas, 13130 Lincoln Way in Auburn. Call Jená Kline at (530) 575-9503 for more information. N-V-US Looks at 13486 Luther Road (next to Sweetpea’s) will offer walk-in haircuts for $9.99 from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. March 8 and 15 with profits going to Dominic’s family. Friends have established a fund for the benefit of the Ramos Family at Citizens Bank in Downtown Auburn. Follow Dominic’s progress and wish him well at www.caringbridge.org/visit/dominicramos