AJ Moreno is a vivacious, sporty, joyous, hilarious, smart, animated, affectionate, dimple-cheeked five-year-old boy who is the youngest of Christina and Mando’s four sons and the smallest member of the band of Moreno brothers. He loves basketball, cross-country, drawing, singing, BBQing tri-tip, golfing, and “helping daddy coach”. He ferociously loves his brothers and his friends. As Mando says, “AJ has more friends than Warren Buffet!”. With the addition of AJ to the Moreno family, he became their unofficial “mascot”, their social ambassador, and the exclamation point in the punctuation of their family’s expansion. AJ is the ever-beating pulse of the Moreno family; a steady vibration of joy.
On Friday, October 28th, a fun and typical day had begun for AJ who was looking forward to his “color run” at school, but instead, the day ended in the ER department at UC Davis Medical Center in Sacramento. How fast, and drastically life can change…in just an instant. Christina had noticed that AJ’s typically svelt and muscular abdomen was appearing distended and more pronounced on the left side. She also noted that a firmness existed when pressed upon, in contrast to the other side of his upper abdomen. She made an appointment for the following (this week) with AJ’s doctor to follow up on her finding, but since AJ was acting totally fine and was eating, and eliminating normally, she felt reassured. But when AJ came home from the school’s “color run” on Friday and started his bath, both he and Christina noticed that his left testicle was swollen. With that additional and abnormal symptom, Chrissy and Mando headed straight to the ER at Lodi Memorial Hospital with him. An ultrasound was performed and blood work was run, resulting in the delivery of the most unexpected and devastating news of their lives: a tumor had been found on AJ’s left kidney…and it was large. They would soon find out that it was “Wilms Tumor” which is “a cancerous tumor that starts in the cells of the kidney. It’s the most common type of kidney cancer in children”. Transport was arranged and AJ was taken up to UC Davis Medical Center via ambulance with his mom by his side, and his dad following close behind. Once at UC Davis, AJ was seen by several doctors, and a CT scan was ordered to determine the extent of the tumor. AJ was then admitted to the hematology/oncology ward where they met with a team of doctors who would be consulting on his case. (Christina and Mando have been incredibly happy with the expertise, compassion, and collaborative care that AJ has been receiving and know that they are exactly where they need to be). The CT scan revealed that he has a large tumor on his kidney but that there were also “spots” on his lungs. A biopsy was planned, but upon further discussion with the medical team and surgeons, it was postponed in order to avoid the risk of disturbing/spreading any cancer cells to areas beyond the tumor. After more discussion and collaborative decision-making, the plan again shifted back to the primary objective of obtaining a biopsy. It is imperative to obtain and analyze the tumor’s DNA in order for AJ’s team to devise the best plan of attack with the most effective chemotherapy “cocktail”.
AJ spent Halloween day keeping busy with lots of fun activities and a chunk of time spent as his alter-ego, Spiderman, zipping through the halls of the ward, launching imaginary webs from his wrists! Thankfully, both sets of grandparents as his brothers were able to bring his costume up to the hospital for him the night before Halloween! Due to Covid restrictions, AJ was not able to see his loving visitors, but Mando was able to visit with all of them, hug them, comfort and check-in with Hayden, Conner, and Cade (and get fresh changes of clothing for himself and Christina). He also received (and then delivered) the ” holy grail ” of joy-inducing garb: AJ’s Halloween Costume! Late on Halloween night, the surgeons met again with Christina, Mando, and AJ, and surgery was scheduled for this morning (Monday, November 1st) to remove the entire kidney, thus removing the tumor as well. The surgery would also involve the installation of a chemotherapy port for AJ’s treatments. Upon the surgeons’ investigation of the tumor during the surgery, it was determined that it would be the best and safest route to delay the removal of the entire kidney/tumor until after chemotherapy had had a chance to shrink the tumor’s size. It was discovered that the tumor was attached to surrounding organs and thus, posed more risk to AJ if it was removed at this point. Moving forward, the game plan is to start chemotherapy once the tumor biopsy results indicate the best, custom chemotherapy “recipe” for AJ. It is incredible that a tumor, the “enemy” will give up its’ secrets so willingly, and help to orchestrate its own destruction! Thank GOD! Once the tumor has shrunk, his surgeons will go back in to remove his kidney (and tumor) in their entirety. Christina and Mando recognize and respect that the surgeons did what was best for AJ and everyone has full confidence in this approach. AJ came through surgery beautifully and once his parents were able to see him, Chrissy sent a message saying, “He’s just so amazing… He’s got a 7-inch incision down his belly, a port in his chest, an epidural in his back, a catheter, and a GI tube, yet he said he’s ‘ok'” He’s a brave, strong, and precious kiddo.
All donations will go directly to the Moreno family for expenses related to AJ’s medical procedures. If there are any donations available above and beyond the needs of the Moreno family they will go directly to another family that’s battling childhood kidney cancer. If you have any questions in regards to the donations please email Brad Delk at [email protected]
You can send donations to:
Tin Cup Cares Foundation
528 N Stockton St.
Stockton CA 95203