Derick, 14, who is undergoing treatment for a cancerous brain tumor, sits on the lawn of his front yard in El Centro home on May 14 as he awaits a 14th birthday parade organized by the Make-A-Wish Foundation. | CORISSA IBARRA PHOTO
EL CENTRO — “As the fire engine honked, I removed the blindfolds and Derik started to cry,” said his mother, Blanca Gonzalez. On May 14, about 40 vehicles surprised Derik Gonzalez, parading his El Centro house to wish him a happy 14th birthday.
“I don’t think it could have come out any better,” said Blanca Gonzalez. “It wasn’t just a happy birthday wish, it was also — ‘we are here to support you for everything you are going through.’”
Derik was diagnosed with a medulloblastoma, a cancerous brain tumor, on Dec. 2, 2019.
On short notice, wish granters from the Make-a-Wish Foundation of San Diego were able to organize this birthday party — COVID-19 style!
Cars, trucks, and even a fire engine were decorated with banners and balloons honking in front of Derik’s residence.
Birthday wishers included friends, family, Make-a-Wish officials, California Highway Patrol, Imperial County Sheriff’s Office, El Centro Fire Department, and more.
Derik, sitting in the middle of the lawn with his mother, maintaining social distancing, enjoyed the parade where his friends and family shared their love. He also enjoyed the entertainment — a dancing Spider-Man and Iron Man; and DJ Nancy Abiang playing Derik’s favorite songs. Also, several people driving by brought gifts for Derik.
Derik’s Struggle with Brain Cancer
A typical teenager who could be on the Xbox for hours, Derik enjoys talking with his friends, playing basketball and football, and listening to all genres of music — rap, pop, rock, rancheras, oldies, etc.
As for school, “I like science the most, especially when we mix things in the lab,” said Derik.
“Beginning school year August 2019, Derik started taking Adderall for attention deficit,” said Blanca Gonzalez. “He started having side effects, including headaches and weight loss, which are common side effects of this medication.”
His mother continued to take Derik to the doctor regularly, but when he started to experience vision issues in November 2019, the eye doctor told him to stop taking the medications.
“Doctor dilated his pupils and said let me check again because there is something going on. I need you to stop whatever medications he is on right now. His eyes are very swollen and don’t know if it is the meds or something behind his head making that pressure,” Blanca Gonzalez recounted.
“Since that day, I couldn’t sleep,” said Gonzalez.
As the family anxiously awaited an appointment for a CT scan that never came, Blanca said Derick called her several days later asking her to pick him up.
“’Hey mom, can you come pick me up, I have a headache and don’t feel good.’ I took him to the emergency room at Brawley hospital (Pioneers). When I got there, I explained what was going on and that we were waiting on a CT scan, but nothing yet.”
Gonzalez recalls telling the hospital doctor, “I am not leaving until you get the CT scan because that is the order of the doctor and I need an answer.”
“After a while, the doctor did order a CT scan with contrast,” said Gonzalez. Within an hour, the doctor shared a picture of the brain showing a mass in the cerebellum.
“I remember looking into Derik’s face, and his eyes are wide open,” said Gonzalez. “I broke down but had to put myself back together. I told Derik, there is no reason to be scared, we will fight this together and everything will be fine.”
“The doctor informed us that they called Rady Children’s Hospital in San Diego and were getting a team together and that we would be flown to San Diego. We arrived about midnight on Tuesday, Dec. 2. On Dec. 4, Derik had brain surgery,” said Gonzalez.
“He has had three surgeries and has been so brave. He has recovered from all of them. The first surgery was for removal of the grade 3-4 tumor (got it all), second surgery was to allow drainage of fluids, and the third was for the port,” stated Gonzalez.
“He had six weeks of radiation after surgery and lost his hair during the second treatment of chemo. By end of this month, he will start his third set of chemo treatment and should be done by October,” said Gonzalez.
When asked how he feels and what are the effects of the treatment, Derik said, “I kind of get nervous when I go to Rady’s. I get tired, hair loss, and nausea. I am bored and I can’t even go anywhere, but I am happy that my treatment is going well. I no longer have the symptoms (related to tumor).”
Make-A-Wish Foundation has been working with Derik and his mother on his top-three wishes — trips to Greece and Thailand are on the list.
Among other areas, Derik wants to visit the islands and the elephant sanctuary in Thailand. He also added Greece because he wants to see its beautiful sceneries and its art. He wants to go somewhere far. The farthest he has been is Nayarit, Mexico.
Meanwhile, others have been key to his journey, including friends and family.
“The Cancer (Resource) Center of the Desert has been doing such an amazing job. They help you with gas cards, care packages, information, and other financial help. They always include Derik’s younger, 7-year-old brother, Ethan, and have something for him also. They have also helped in delivering documents, etc.,” stated Gonzalez.
Laura Gonzalez, Derik’s grandmother, said, “We are very happy, because we didn’t expect this (parade). … He (Derik) is a very peaceful and noble person.”
“He is going through very tough times. We are suffering alongside him as well. He is always positive, and we tell him ‘hechale ganas (be strong or give it your all),’” said Laura. Blanca Gonzalez added, Derik “expressed that his best friend, Donovan Flores, is like his brother and has supported him. Donavan even cut his hair to look like Derik.”