When 7-year old Vinny Desautels first heard the word “cancer,” he did something that few adults even think to do: He decided to grow out his hair and donate it to cancer patients in need.
It happened two years ago, when Vinny watched his mom, Amanda Azevedo, get ready for an event to support the local lymphoma foundation in Sacramento, California. As they were leaving the event, Vinny asked his mom about the disease. And as Azevedo recently told The Washington Post, she explained the brutality of cancer to Vinny, as best as she could. She also told him that the medicine to fight cancer often makes people lose their hair, which can be particularly devastating to young women.
When he heard this, he asked a question that would make any parent proud: “Can I grow out my hair to donate?”
The answer, of course, was yes.
For the next two years, sweet Vinny grew out his hair, and endured the teasing and strange looks from classmates and strangers. Through it all, he held his head high. “He always took it like a champion,” his dad, Jason Desautels, told The Washington Post.
Noble intentions aside, Vinny lived his life like many energetic 7-year-old boys. He played soccer and T-ball, and loved Pokemon and video games. And as his dad also shared with the paper, Vinny had big dreams of becoming a farmer like his grandpa, who raises cattle in a nearby town.
In March, when Vinny’s hair finally reached 13 inches long, he eagerly had it cut off, sending his locks to “Wigs for Kids.” Vinny was “ecstatic” to donate his hair, his dad said, even despite the strange stinging in his right eye. He’d been feeling it for a while, but because it was allergy season, his family doctor prescribed eye drops and Benedryl.
Weeks later, though, when the stinging hadn’t gone away, his parents made an appointment with an ophthalmologist. It was set for April 29, but the day before his appointment, Vinny suddenly complained of knee pain, too. That’s when his parents noticed a strange swelling on his hip. They immediately drove him to the emergency room, where X-rays revealed a devastating cause: A tumor was growing on his pelvic bone. The next morning, they learned that the swelling and pain in his eye was also caused by a tumor.
And now, in a sad — and downright cruel twist of fate — this selfless little boy who just months ago donated his hair to cancer patients has become a cancer patient himself. After undergoing a litany of tests and MRIs, the Post reports that Vinny has been diagnosed with a Stage 4 aggressive cancer, which doctors believe is likely Ewing’s sarcoma, a rare cancer that develops in the bones or soft tissues of the body.
Not only is Vinny fighting a horrific disease no child should ever have to face, but his parents are facing every parent’s worst nightmare. And as if seeing their child in pain and dealing with the devastating diagnosis weren’t brutal enough, Vinny’s parents are also in the throes of financial struggle that often accompanies serious illness. The family told The Washington Post that Azevedo (who is six-months pregnant with the couple’s third son), and Desautels have both taken leaves from their jobs to be there for their son, as he begins undergoing chemotherapy on Tuesday.
The family is certainly no stranger to adversity, though they admit these past few months have been incomprehensible. Desautels, a U.S. Army veteran who served in Iraq, fought in the Second Battle of Fullujah — the bloodiest battle of the Iraq War. And still, he says that his military battles were nothing compared to the battle his son is fighting now. As he told the Post, “None of that really prepares you for this.”
As the mom to two boys who are about Vinny’s age, this story pokes at every parental soft spot in my body. My heart goes out to sweet Vinny and his entire family. Hug your little ones tight, and consider giving to this sweet boy and his family, as they fight the battle of their lives.
If you are interested in writing to Vinny, his family shares you can send your best wishes to him at VictoryforVinny@gmail.com. The family has also created a Go Fund Me campaign to help cover medical costs. You can donate directly at www.gofundme.com/vinnyd.More On