The first signs of Alex Cesar’s lung cancer arrived this winter. Cesar’s mom, Alexandria Lawrence, said her son started coughing and couldn’t stop.
A trip to the Alaska Native Medical Center in Anchorage in the spring revealed Lawrence’s worst nightmare: the 20-year-old had mesothelioma, an aggressive form of cancer that affects the lining of the lungs, heart or abdomen.
The diagnosis began a trying period for the family, who has been battling Cesar’s cancer since he was a boy. Resting during a fundraiser for her son on Saturday morning at the Juneau Arts and Culture Center, Lawrence reflected on all the support they’ve received, starting when her son was diagnosed with leukemia at age 6.
“It’s really overwhelming for me to see how much people care and want to help,” Lawrence said. “This isn’t our first major fundraiser for Alex by any means. I wasn’t here for the first fundraisers that they had 14 years ago, but I’m guessing it was a similar turnout.”
Dozens of community members and businesses teamed up Saturday for an all-day fundraiser for Cesar, who is undergoing chemotherapy and will likely undergo surgery later in the summer.
Cesar has two more rounds of chemotherapy left, and at the end of next month, doctors will decide whether to operate on his lung. Cesar was unable to attend the fundraiser as he continues his treatment in Seattle.
“This is an incurable cancer, it can’t be cured through radiation or chemotherapy,” Cesar’s dad, Robert, said. “It only can be cured through surgery. So they’re currently doing chemotherapy to shrink the cancer so they can surgically remove it.”
Robert solicited over 100 donated items for individual raffles, everything from Alaska Native artwork, clothing, gift certificates, knives and cakes. The fundraiser also featured games, live music and Filipino and Alaska Native food.
“We’re trying to raise money, but money’s not the real value here,” Robert said. “The real value is community, and having our friends, family and community around us. All of these people are our friends and family, and it’s means more to us than the money itself.”
Doors opened at 10 a.m., but crowds didn’t pick up until the early afternoon. John and Kathy Lawrence strolled past the many tables stuffed with raffle items. A relative of Alexandria, Kathy has lived through cancer herself, and leads a cancer survivors support group.
“It really touches me when there are some many of our people battling cancer,” Kathy said.
Josh Quinto was one of the many family members of Cesar helping run the event. A cousin of Cesar and similar in age — Cesar is one year older — the two “grew up as brothers,” attending home-school and playing football together.
Quinto knows first-hand the toll cancer has had on his cousin. When Cesar was a youngster battling leukemia, he underwent radiation treatment that weakened his bones to the point of no longer being able to play high-contact sports like football.
Now adults, Quinto said his cousin should be about his stature, but “all this stuff that’s been done to his body, he’s probably half of my weight.”
“It’s really sad to me,” he said.
• Contact sports reporter Nolin Ainsworth at 523-2272 or email@example.com. Follow Empire Sports on Twitter at @akempiresports.