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Treatment for the spirit

Rony Montalvan's leukemia is under control, but there's still a lot of medical work ahead
by: Jaime Valdez, Hilda Cueto de Montalvan hugs her son Rony after finding out that his treatment for leukemia is going well as Dr. Janice Olson looks on.

Hilda Cueto de Montalvan patiently waited to ask the question weighing heavily on her heart.

'How is my son's treatment going overall?' asked the concerned mother.

Without hesitation, Dr. Janice Olson reassured her in Spanish, 'He's doing fine.'

In that moment, a smile lit Hilda's face. And within seconds she embraced her 18-year-old son Rony in an exuberant hug.

Olson's reassurance went a long way toward lifting the spirits of everyone in the examination room at Legacy Emanuel Children's Hospital, where Rony is undergoing treatment for T-Cell acute lymphoblastic leukemia.

'He's doing great,' said Olson, a pediatric oncologist with the Children's Cancer and Blood Disorders Program. 'Right now his leukemia is controlled and contained, but not gone.'

It's also not without its medical setbacks.

Rony was diagnosed with leukemia in June, just six days before he was scheduled to return home to Peru after completing a year as a Beaverton Rotary exchange student at Beaverton High School.

His host family, Terry and Kathy Tobin of Cedar Mill, recognizing that Rony was very sick, shared the news with his family in Peru and began seeking care to stabilize his condition.

'I've been impressed with the family that stepped up to care for him,' Olson said. 'Kathy was with him like a true mom the first few days before Rony's dad arrived. The Tobins took on Rony's problem as if he were a member of the family.'

That support as well as the support of Beaverton Rotarians, who agreed to sponsor Rony for a second year to allow him to continue his medical treatment, helped the Montalvan family get through the first couple days that it took to make travel arrangements to the United States.

Rony's father, Ronald Montalvan, was the first to make the trip and stayed with the Tobins for three weeks.

Rony's 20-year-old sister Michelle followed, staying six weeks, while his mother waited to make the third trip in August.

'Having his family come from Peru to take turns being with him has been marvelous for his spirit,' Olson said.

Honest about health

In the months that have followed, Rony has been hospitalized for an infection and suffered a stroke brought on by a chemotherapy treatment called Methotrexate.

'He lost the use of his left side,' Kathy Tobin recalled. 'He couldn't walk, stand or get out of bed.

'He was in intensive care for eight days and went through rehab for another week.'

Now a good portion of his days is spent building his strength through a series of exercises and puzzles.

'He's making wonderful progress,' Kathy Tobin said.

But just as they overcame one hurdle along Rony's long road to recovery, they stumbled upon another obstacle - this time in the form of an important chemotherapy drug called Asparaginase.

The drug caused Rony to have a severe allergic reaction, prompting him to once again be admitted to the hospital.

'We've had a couple of challenges,' Olson said. 'We have to decide how to treat his central nervous system without causing further damage and we need to get a replacement drug for his treatment.'

Through everything, Rony remains focused on following doctors' orders in a carefully outlined 36-month plan.

'He takes everything in stride,' Kathy Tobin said. 'We have to remind him that he needs to be honest with how he's feeling.

'He does what he needs to do - does his therapy exercises and takes all his medications. He also spends time in prayer each day with his mother.'

So grateful

Both Rony and his mother, Hilda, say they are incredibly grateful for the support they have received from medical personnel, Beaverton Rotary and the Tobin family.

'I'm very thankful that they are allowing my son to be treated here in the United States,' Hilda said. 'I appreciate the support we have received and am so grateful.'

Kathy Tobin feels it was serendipitous that Rony was placed in her home just as her own son left for his year as an exchange student.

'Being a cancer survivor myself, I have compassion for Rony's situation and knowledge of what it's like being in the system and what it takes to make the journey through the process,' she said. 'It's not foreign or overwhelming to me.

'We plan to move forward each day. Each day that passes is one day closer to Rony's health.'

Rony Montalvan has a long road ahead of him on his journey to recovery.

While his host family and Beaverton Rotary work to ensure that Rony is able to stay in Oregon for a year of treatment, he is no longer eligible for his father's medical insurance in Peru.

To aid with mounting medical costs for his treatment, Beaverton Rotary has identified Rony as the primary beneficiary of its Oct. 13 International Community Service Auction. The event begins at 5:30 p.m. in the Kingstad Center in Beaverton.

Donations are also being accepted. Anyone wishing to contribute is asked to mail donations to the Beaverton Rotary Foundation, P.O. Box 385, Beaverton, 97075. Donations should specify that they are to support Rony Montalvan.