Sunday, May 3, 2015

West Lawn Boy Fighting Brain Cancer 'Just Wants to Grow Up'; You Can Help

By Joan Hadac
Editor and Publisher
Southwest Chicago Post

A second grader who says he "just wants to grow up" is the focus of a St. Baldrick's event
Isaac Ruiz
set for 5 p.m. Thursday, June 11 at Lee Elementary School, 6448 S. Tripp.

Isaac Ruiz, 8, has been fighting medullablastoma brain cancer since April of 2014, and his teacher, Brigid Jacobsen, has organized the event to raise funds and awareness for cancer in children, as well as rally support for Isaac in the West Lawn neighborhood and across the Southwest Side.

Needed are volunteers to staff the event, licensed barbers and beauticians to shave heads, kid-friendly entertainers to keep the mood festive, donations of money to help the cause, and people willing to get their heads shaved at the event and solicit pledges.

The St. Baldrick's Foundation describes itself as "a volunteer-driven charity that funds more in childhood cancer research grants than any organization except the U.S. government" and which offers "hope to infants, children, teens and young adults fighting childhood cancers."

To make a donation online, visit

Those who want to help in other ways are encouraged to call the school at (773) 535-2255 or email Jacobsen at


Isaac is the youngest of Nilsa Dominguez and Alexander Ruiz's four children, which includes Alani, 15, Bria, 14, and Elijah, 9.

Before he was diagnosed with cancer, Isaac "started getting sick at school at lunchtime, throwing up, and the school was always calling me to pick him up," Nilsa recalled. "We thought he had some kind of stomach problem. When I took him to the pediatrician, he said that Isaac had a lot of allergies, so he changed his diet to solve the problem."

One weekend, Isaac had a severe headache and was taken to a hospital emergency room, where physicians said the problem was migraine headaches.

But Nilsa remained skeptical.

"I work in the medical field, and I knew there was something wrong," she added. "So I took him to the Lurie Children's Hospital neurology department. Everyone said I had a good mothering instinct, and so I wanted to keep going. When I got to the neurology department, I told them I wanted a simple explanation about what was going on.

"They took a CT Scan, and within five minutes they came back and told me Isaac had a brain tumor and they needed to operate right away," Nilsa continued. "The headaches were from brain and spinal fluid gathering in his body."

After the surgery, Isaac had radiation for six weeks during the summer of 2014, with a small dose of chemotherapy with the radiation. Chemotherapy, in turn, lasted six months.

Resilient as an eight-year-old boy can be, Isaac "just goes with the flow," Nilsa observed. "Kids with cancer don’t know negativity. They’re just strong.”

Faculty, students and others at Lee School have been supportive, ensuring that Isaac stayed up to date with his homework and offering support to the family. During Brain Tumor Awareness Month, teachers and classmates put up ribbons around the school. They have also made up a banner with the children’s handprints. Isaac sees it everyday. 

Then there was a time Isaac kept coming home with pieces of hair.

"We found out that five little girls were cutting their own hair, putting it in little ponytails and giving it to Isaac so he could donate it [to an organization that makes wigs for cancer patients]," Nilsa explained.

Today, Isaac's test results look good, and doctors are cautiously optimistic, "but they won’t say Isaac is in remission yet, because 65 percent of children with cancer relapse within two years," Nilsa said. "After five years, the [relapse] numbers go down dramatically. That’s what we’re hoping for. For us, there is nothing but hope, there can’t be anything else."

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