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11-year-old Petaluma returns to the football pitch after beating toughest opponent

Jaden Cerda is a happy 11 year old grade six student at Corona Creek Elementary School. He’s also a 95-pound defensive tackle for the Petaluma Panthers junior football team. Most of the offensive linemen he faces on Sunday are “way bigger than me.”

None is greater than the opponent he has already defeated, with the help of his family, medical professionals and the community just to enter the playing field.

The biggest battle of his young life began in the spring of 2019 when he noticed he was still thirsty.

“I drank gallons of water every day,” he recalls.

He was also still tired and sleepy. When the symptoms persisted, his parents, Joe and Jihan Cerda, had their son tested, which led to an MRI.

The news was not good. In super simplistic terms, Jaden had life-threatening brain tumors, one on his pineal gland and one on his pituitary gland. His young world has changed. He did not meet his challenge alone. His parents, older brother, Joey, and younger sister, Joya, were there for him throughout the coming ordeal. As the battle continued, there were doctors, nurses, specialists and technicians on his team.

There was also a community of friends. As news of Jaden’s diagnosis began to circulate, his football teammates, teachers and classmates at Corona Creek and many more stepped up to support him and his family.

There were maps, messages, food, classic car rides, police cars and fire engines. There were greetings from classmates, family friends and strangers To help the family, T-shirts, sweatshirts, face masks and mugs with the slogan “No One Fights Alone” .

“We were overwhelmed with the love of our community,” Joe said. “It was amazing. I can’t say enough about this community. It gave us the strength to overcome this.

The tributes were more than sympathy. They were a sign of affection for a special young man and his family.

Casa Grande High School football coach John Antonio said: “Jaden is just a happy kid. Through his struggles he was always on a level playing field. never seen angry or angry. He just sees life through different glasses. Everything is good. “

This same attitude is still reflected today, as Jaden recounted the weekly chemotherapy treatments and the platelet and red blood cell transfusions.

“The chemo would make me sick. I threw up a lot and sometimes the drugs made me sick, but I never felt really sick, ”he said.

But he was ill and his treatment included stays at Kaiser Hospital in Oakland where only his mother was allowed to be with him due to COVID-19 restrictions. Joe and his brother, Joey, have always found ways to stay in touch.

“My brother and father would go up to the top of the parking lot so I could see them through my hospital room window,” Jaden recalls.

Jihan is a wedding and portrait photographer, but when Jaden fell ill his job changed.

“I became a full-time home nurse,” she explained.

Jaden, like all the other students, continued his education through Zoom, but, of course, there were differences. As his treatment continued, there were times he “attended” classes from the hospital and, there were times they reminded him of how ill he was.

“The worst part was throwing up and being shot,” he said.

Unable to play soccer and other sports with friends, Jaden spent his time at home playing with his extensive LEGO collection, listening to fun music, and in the hospital playing blackjack with it. the nurses.

“We have played hundreds of games,” he said.

Everything did not go exactly as planned.

Jaden was due to spend six weeks receiving radiation therapy at the California Protons Therapy Center in San Diego, but as his mother and Joya, 6, prepared for the trip, they were told the clinic’s proton beam was not working. . and they were diverted to Cincinnati for a week for the first treatment.

“We had learned to adapt,” Jihan said.

After the session in Cincinnati, Jaden returned to San Diego for six weeks of treatment. His time in San Diego proved to be a hardship on the family, but not so much on the patient. While Jihan and Joyia stayed with Jaden, Joe, who works as a private strength and conditioning trainer, and Joey held the home front.

“It was a divisive-conquer situation,” Joe said.

“It was fun,” Jaden said. “It was like taking a road trip.” He was able to visit Marine World and other San Diego attractions and spent a lot of time playing on the beach. “I won a stuffed animal for my sister,” he said.

During his fifth round of chemotherapy, he spent New Years in the hospital, but a happy ending was approaching. After his sixth round there was a little setback when he developed a fever and four days later he was back in the hospital.

On Super Bowl Sunday morning, he was allowed to come home and was able to watch the game with his family.

The real winners were Jaden and his family. On her last two MRI scans, the tumors were gone.

Jaden is back home full time with his family, back to school and back to playing the sport he loves. His treatment now only includes drugs. He even had the chance to be a ball collector for his favorite team, the Gauchos from Casa Grande high school.

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