Edison freshman stays strong amid battle with cancer

May 1, 2017

“I was pretty shocked and worried at first.” “Obviously you never want to hear that you have cancer.”  Thus began a journey of struggle and resilience for freshman Sebastian Bonaiuto, who was diagnosed with osteosarcoma in December 2016.  After the amputation of his foot, Bonaiuto is still in the midst of his battle with the rare bone cancer.  He agreed to talk with The Current via email about his experiences.

“It all started with a rolled ankle,” Bonaiuto said.  “It got progressively worse, so I went to see a doctor.”  Initial X-rays came back negative, but an MRI test a few weeks later revealed a bone cyst in his heel.  Bonaiuto underwent surgery to remove it, but it kept reappearing, resulting in three additional operations.   

After the last surgery, doctors found suspicious cells in Bonaiuto’s bone, and pathology revealed they were malignant.  “I was pretty mad that they had already done four surgeries on my foot and just now found that I had cancer,” he said.  

According to the American Cancer Society, osteosarcoma is most commonly found in children and teens; however, only 450 cases are diagnosed in that age group each year, making the cancer fairly uncommon.  It can be inherited or caused by DNA changes during cell division, such as when bone forms.  

After getting the diagnosis, Bonaiuto was admitted to Fairfax Hospital where he began a series of surgeries and chemotherapy treatments.  Bonaiuto said his side effects “haven’t been too terrible,” consisting of “nausea, hair loss and a weakened immune system.”  He has so far completed three of his eight chemotherapy cycles.  

 

Courtesy of Dominic Bonaiuto
Boaiuto exercises during his treatment at Fairfax Hospital.

One of the most significant effects of the cancer was the amputation of his left foot.  “They had to amputate my foot to keep the cancer from spreading,” Bonaiuto said.  “They couldn’t take out enough bone without taking the whole foot off.”  He plans to get a prosthetic foot that will help him regain his walking abilities.  

Bonaiuto is not the first in his family to suffer from cancer; his mother had breast cancer several years ago.  She succumbed to the disease in 2011.  Bonaiuto said he used her experience as an example.  “[It] kind of prepared me for what to expect.  I saw her go through chemo and some surgeries.  I hope my experience ends better, though,” he said.

Bonaiuto’s love of sports has led to some memorable moments during his treatment.  His friends and doctors were able to arrange conversations with a number of famous athletes, including NFL safety Eric Berry, Washington Nationals pitcher Phil Morse, Paralympian Josh Sundquist and wounded warriors Sara Evans and Nicholas Clark.  Berry went through a battle with cancer in 2014, while Sundquist lost his leg as a result of the disease.  

The athletes helped Bonaiuto understand how the treatment would go and what to expect in the future.  “Every talk has been very helpful, and I learned a lot from talking to them,” he said.  “I think it’s really cool that they have taken the time to talk to me.”

Courtesy of Sebastian Bonaiuto
Bonaiuto poses with Phil Morse, a pitcher with the Washington Nationals.

However, the athletes are not his only source of inspiration.  “I see other kids when I’m in the hospital…who have been getting chemo for years and have worse side effects, and some really little kids, too, and seeing them stay strong gives me inspiration,” he said.  

According to freshman football and baseball player Jack Durham, Bonaiuto’s fellow students are also inspired.  “Since the beginning, Sebastian has fought through some of the toughest of times and that inspires me to keep fighting through anything no matter how rigourous it gets,” Durham said.  

Throughout his treatment, Bonaiuto has been keeping up on shcoolwork through online classes and homebound teachers and is ready to get back to his normal routine.  

“I’ll go back to school on the first day next year,” he said.  “Big picture, everything looks the same…the only thing I see changing is how long it takes me to get ready in the morning and [how often I have to go to the doctor.]”

Bonaiuto is also planning to put his prosthetic foot to good use.  “I’m going to try to play football again this fall.  I haven’t decided which other sports I’ll do, but I plan on playing a winter and spring sport too,” he said.  

For now, Bonaiuto does not know yet whether he is cancer-free.  “The chemo I’m doing now is to make sure there isn’t anything left,” he said.  “There is always a chance of it returning, but the doctors are doing everything they can to keep it from coming back.”

Despite his struggle, Bonaiuto’s mantra has been to “stay positive.”

“Everything seems to go better and I’m more confident when I keep a positive attitude and I feel I can tackle whatever the day brings,” he said, though he acknowledged that “it’s not always easy, and there are rough days here and there.”

Bonaiuto said he appreciates the “tremendous” support of his family and friends and prefers to look at the glass as half-full.

“It is a struggle going through all this and adjusting, but it could be worse,” he said.  “Staying positive makes everything easier.”

 

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