Remembering JorgeAugust 21, 2020
By ALLEN LAMAN
Jorge Martínez Angeles is still with them.
Long after he found the penny-sized lump on his foot, after the 52 rounds of chemotherapy that followed, and after the cancer came back and ultimately took his life, his parents still carry the memories of their happy, strong and loving 14-year-old son. They always will.
Juana Angeles and Jose Martínez see Jorge coming into their Huntingburg home with his younger sisters when they return from school. They think of him when they spot a child playing outside, and when the family goes to a swimming pool, they envision Jorge — bright, caring and selfless Jorge — jumping in with the other kids.
These scenes remind Mom and Dad of a beautiful life cut short. Of a boy who lived to help, who was a light in this world and who never wanted anyone to worry about him. Not even when he was diagnosed with alveolar rhabdomyosarcoma in January 2017.
When his mother told him she would die if he passed away, Jorge told her he wanted her to live.
“Jorge told her that she’s healthy and strong,” said Maria Sandoval, who translated for Juana. “And that he fought for his life, and so she should, too. So that’s why she has strength to get up in the morning and to live her life.”
She and Jose lost Jorge less than three years after his diagnosis. Thursday, just over a year removed from his passing, his family gathered in their home to remember.
They remembered his ambition. Jorge wanted to be a lawyer or police officer to serve others. After beginning his battle against alveolar rhabdomyosarcoma — a rare type of cancer that forms in soft tissue — he decided that when he was older, he wanted to open a clinic or donate lots of money to help kids fight cancer.
They remembered his kindness. A studious kid who liked math and history, teachers would call Jorge’s parents and tell them that they had a great son who would lend a hand to his classmates when they were down.
“Especially kids that didn’t speak English very well,” Sandoval translated for Jose. “He would help them understand the material.”
And they remembered when everything changed. It all began with that tiny bump on his left foot. Jorge’s leg would go numb when he sat for extended periods of time, prompting his parents to think that he might have fallen or hurt himself while playing outside.
In December 2016, Jose took his son to a pediatrician, who pointed the family to Memorial Hospital and Health Care Center in Jasper, where a doctor told them Jorge had cancer. That diagnosis was confirmed by specialists at Riley Hospital for Children in Indianapolis.
“They said it was really hard for them to hear that,” Sandoval translated for Juana and Jose. “But they always had hope that he would survive it.”
Doctors scanned his body to see where the cancer was located, and they found it on his left foot, left groin lymph nodes and left hip. Following a few months of chemotherapy, the tumor on his foot was removed, the growth on his left hip was radiated and shrunk, and in December of 2018, doctors told him that his last day of chemotherapy would be the day after Christmas.
Jorge would feel down every now and then throughout this process, but he remained strong for his parents. He would tell his doctor that he was “trying really hard to get better so that his parents and his family wouldn’t be sad,” Sandoval translated. During his treatment, Juana was pregnant with her and Jose’s youngest daughter, Sagrario, and Jorge recognized that it was important for his mother not to feel downcast or to cry.
“They said that he always tried to be strong,” Sandoval translated for Juana and Jose. “Until his last day. He never tried to cry in front of them so that they knew that he was trying to be strong.”
The fighting paid off. On Dec. 26, 2018, following his final chemotherapy session, Jorge was declared cancer free.
“We have a medal because you are our hero,” a member of the Riley staff told the boy on that day, before he rang the hospital’s celebratory bell. “You’ve been very brave and strong, and I’m just amazed how with the language barrier and everything, you just kept everything so organized and clear.”
Less than two weeks later, another small ball formed on his foot. It grew from the size of a pebble to a golf ball in just four days, but a doctor told the family that it couldn’t be cancer because Jorge had just finished his treatments.
Not long after that, though, exams were conducted that showed the cancer had returned and spread throughout his body. It had surfaced in his leg, and in his back and on his thigh.
On Jan. 27, 2019, Jorge’s doctor told him and his parents that his cancer had progressed too far.
Nothing else could be done.
“Jorge was there when the doctor said that,” Sandoval translated for Juana. “And that was the only time they saw him cry.”
He told his mother and father that he didn’t want to die. They told him that they’d keep fighting.
The family talked to other doctors and explored other treatments. Natural medicines imported from Guadalajara helped a bit, but the tumors would fade only to return in different places.
A GoFundMe page was launched to cover the cost of clinical trials in Houston. But the campaign fell hundreds of thousands of dollars short of its goal. Meanwhile, Jorge lost the ability to walk — his leg deteriorating as the days passed by.
Jorge’s life ended inside his home on the evening of Aug. 15, 2019. One minute, Juana and Jose were discussing new treatments with their son. Not long after, Jorge told them he couldn’t breathe.
Those were his last words.
An ambulance was called to the home. But he was gone.
Still, just over a year after his passing, Juana and Jose know their happy, loving and kind son is with them.
“They say that they can still feel his presence,” Sandoval translated for the parents. “They feel that he is still here with them, looking after them.”
The boy’s impact reached beyond his family. Tiffany Neuhoff, a Southwest Dubois County School Corporation teacher who worked with Jorge when he was home-schooled near the end of his life, recalled vivid memories of his kindness and his genuine, authentic laugh that couldn’t be held back by his circumstances.
“He was so humble and kind,” Neuhoff said. “Just always a light, for sure.”
Now, Juana wants to launch a foundation in memory of her son. She doesn’t have the resources to do it alone, and she is searching for help in getting it off the ground. That foundation would help other children who have cancer.
Juana and Jose live in Huntingburg with their three daughters: Guadalupe Martínez Angeles, 11; Milagros Martínez Angeles, 5; and Sagrario Martínez Angeles, 2.
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