Childhood brain tumor survivor dreams of curing cancer

San Antonio resident Tony Castro was only seven years old when he
started showing the first signs of a childhood brain tumor.

He began feeling nauseated in Nov. 2013, and even vomited
occasionally. But because it was cold and flu season, the thought of
cancer never entered his mother’s mind.

“Unfortunately, I didn’t recognize it, and I took it really hard,”
Lilliana Castro says. “I’m an ICU nurse, and I just beat myself up
because I didn’t pick up on it. But he didn’t have any neurological symptoms.”

An ependymoma diagnosis

Lilliana took her son to a pediatrician, who diagnosed him with a
viral infection. He was told to get rest and drink plenty of fluids.
But he didn’t get better.

Over the next several months, Tony became tired frequently and he
slept a lot more than usual. He was also much less physically active,
which was strange for a boy normally so passionate about mixed martial
arts. In May 2014, Tony began suffering from headaches, too, so his
mother took him back to the doctor. A brain scan finally revealed the
cause: a childhood brain tumor, or more specifically, stage III anaplastic ependymoma.

“I didn’t eat, and I didn’t sleep,” Lilliana says of the days
following her son’s diagnosis. “I was crying all night and all day. I
kept asking myself, ‘Why?’ I was put here to help people, to get them
better, and here is my child with a prognosis that I know as a nurse
is really, really bad. All I kept thinking about was death.”

The road to MD Anderson and healing

Tony had surgery to remove the 1.5 x 1.25-inch tumor at a local San
Antonio hospital, but Lilliana decided to bring him to MD Anderson for his radiation treatments.

“Many people had told me about it, and I did a lot of research,”
Lilliana says. “Our oncologist was highly recommended, so I decided to
travel here.”

Once here, she met with Anita Mahajan, M.D., who prescribed a six-week
course of proton therapy treatment for Tony at MD Anderson Proton Therapy
Center
. Tony started his proton therapy just a few days
after that initial June 2014 appointment and finished six weeks later.

“We had a wonderful experience and a wonderful result,” Lilliana
says. “They made Tony feel so at home here that he never saw himself
as a sick child. That was really important to me. He was going to the
zoo and to museums. They provided so much stuff to keep Tony
entertained that he honestly thought he was on vacation.”

Back to being a kid after a childhood brain tumor

Today, Tony is an active 10-year-old who shows no evidence of
disease. The former honor roll student is back to making As and Bs in
school, and he did extremely well on the state’s last annual assessment.

“He’s back to his normal self,” Lilliana says. “And he’s starting to
play sports again.”

Tony is also starting to think about the future — and a possible
career in cancer medicine.

“I want to be the head of cancer research,” he says, “because I want
to find a cure.”