Jariel Hiraldo is a 15-year-old Lebanon High School student who loves all things basketball. He is currently on the sidelines, battling a stage four brain tumor, but hopes to return to the court soon.

Hiraldo’s mother, Sarai Millan, and aunt, Ana Millan, recently spoke with LebTown to give an update on his cancer journey and give thanks to those who have supported them thus far.

Read More: ELCO boy’s basketball team supports student battling stage four brain tumor

During last year’s holiday season, Sarai Millan sought medical treatment several times for Hiraldo, who suffered from what doctors believed to be a migraine.

“He was having so [many] headaches and dizziness and vomiting,” his mother said. “And he was not getting better. He was getting worse.”

At the start of the new year, Hiraldo was found on the bathroom floor, crying and vomiting from intense head pain, according to his GoFundMe page. Hiraldo was rushed to the emergency room again.

His mother described what happened after they were sent home: “That day, my husband, his stepdad, was giving him some soup to help him … take his medication. And then, he passed out and started having convulsions and seizures.”

They called 911 in an effort to get Hiraldo medical care as soon as possible.

“The person that came, I think they didn’t want to take us to the emergency room because we just got [back] from the emergency room,” Sarai Millan said. “So, I [was] having an argument with the ambulance … lady. I went and [reported] her too because I call you, and you’re going to take me wherever I tell you to take me. You’re going to take me to Hershey because my son just had a seizure. He never had [any] problems. Jariel [has] always been a healthy kid and [was] always playing basketball.”

During this trip to the emergency room, Hiraldo was kept for 24 hours to be monitored.

“Before I left the hospital, I [asked] them if they could do an MRI. And they told me that they [were] going to treat him like a migraine,” his mother said. “And I told them, you know, since I was 15 years old, I had migraines. But the migraine that my son [is] having is very different than what I have. And every time that you treated me, my migraine would go away. And his didn’t go away.”

The next day, they did an MRI on Hiraldo, which took about 90 minutes, according to Sarai Millan. About 15 minutes later, doctors delivered the results of the scan.

“They took us upstairs. And then, a lady came to the room. And she started telling me not to be scared that a lot of people started coming into the room. And then, she explained that they found a tumor in his brain. And that was it,” his mother said.

“So then I … [walked] up and just [grabbed] my son because I didn’t want him to get scared. And then she went to talk to me. And she was so sad too. And at the same time, the way she saw me crying desperately. And then I said, ‘It’s okay. Let me just take my tears. … And I have to help my son to go through this.’ And since day one, we’ve been there.”

The next day, Hiraldo underwent a surgery in which doctors were able to remove almost all of the tumor. Because the brain tumor was cancerous and in stage four, he received aggressive radiation therapy and chemotherapy to prevent it from growing back.

His mother said to “tell parents to always follow their instincts because, sometimes, doctors are not perfect and do [make] mistakes, too.”

According to Ana Millan, Hiraldo received radiation therapy five days a week and chemotherapy each Monday at a medical facility in Philadelphia from the end of January through mid-March. He had weekends off from cancer treatment to recover.

His mother recounted a positive memory from their time at that medical facility: “They [took] us … in Philadelphia to see a game, the 76ers. They [paid] everything for us. And we just went over there. And that was amazing. … He was so amazed that he was there, that he could see a game like live. You could see his face. He was glowing. He was so happy.”

Over that time, they believed that he would have a month-long break from cancer treatment in April.

“But then, his oncologist here at Hershey called us and told us they were bumping it up,” his aunt said.

“The Ronald McDonald, these people [were] amazing. … They [treated] us like family,” Sarai Millan said in reflection. “So then, we’re here in Hershey. And they do the same thing. … They treat us very nice. And they show us the journey and everything that he’s going to go [through].”

On April 17, Hiraldo started his chemotherapy journey at a medical facility in Hershey. That day, he underwent another operation in which doctors implanted a port. He also received chemotherapy.

Hiraldo is currently receiving about six different types of chemotherapy. Some of the physical side effects that he experiences include skin darkening, difficulty eating and drinking due to stomach pain, dehydration, fluctuations in weight, constipation, and vomiting.

“Every cycle, they give him three weeks off so his body and the cells [can] recoup,” Sarai Millan said. His most recent three-week break from cancer treatment ended after Memorial Day weekend.

Hiraldo will continue to receive cancer treatment in Hershey until March 2024.

During a recent appointment, it was determined that he did not need a transfusion or plates. But, he will be starting physical therapy to regain his strength before returning to the basketball court.

“Since he was in sixth grade, he’s been playing basketball. And that’s what he loves,” his mother said. “That’s the only thing he has in his mind, ‘I want to go through this. And then, I’m going to be in 11th grade when I start playing again for the Lebanon High School. … He’s going to play at least for the summer [of 2024], he said. We’ll see how he feels. But, that’s the motivation for him.”

In addition to the physical side effects, the diagnosis and subsequent surgeries and treatments have negatively affected Hiraldo’s mental and emotional well-being.

“It’s been a challenge for Jariel,” Sarai Millan said. “He feels very lonely sometimes because like we [have] got to be careful … [that people] don’t get him sick. But, we [were] talking to him yesterday that he cannot isolate himself from everybody, from his friends. You [have] got at least one friend to come in an open area and do something at least because he just barricades in his room. And he [doesn’t] do [anything] else. … Sometimes, I get a little bit worried, you know, because then you could get depression. And I’m scared for that.”

Hiraldo is not having the usual interactions at school, as a teacher currently travels to his house when he is feeling up for lessons.

“The community, everywhere, everywhere, they’ve poured out. And they just take time. And just the schools and the teachers,” his aunt said. “And he has this one teacher that comes … twice a week and teaches and, you know, just [says], ‘Hey. Do you want to sit outside?’ or ‘Hey. How’s your day?’ like just those little words. It’s a lot for a kid who’s now isolated, who was used to going to the YMCA and … the basketball court.”

In their interviews with LebTown, Sarai and Ana Millan brought up a few more obstacles in Hiraldo’s journey: staying in the hospital, keeping well hydrated to avoid kidney problems, and dealing with cancer in general as a teenager.

“I always went [with Jariel to] all the treatment. I’m there every day. I’m there with him and giving him healthy choices to eat,” his mother said.

“It’s been tough for the family. It’s been tough for his friends,” his mother said of the difficulties that Hiraldo’s loved ones face as they navigate Hiraldo’s cancer journey along with him. “Like all of a sudden, this came. Like boom. And everything changed our life, you know.”

Since the beginning of his cancer journey, Hiraldo and his loved ones have leaned on their faith to maintain a positive outlook.

“I believe in God. And, you know, he [believes], too. That’s the only thing that we have to do, you know, believe in God,” Sarai Millan said. “He could do miracles.”

Hiraldo has defied a number of the doctors’ predictions. In spite of the brain tumor’s location, he is speaking and moving.

“You never know the outcome. They try. And we have the faith in God that we’re going to go through this, you know, that he’s going to stay here for a long time,” his mother said. “But there [are] things that they say that probably years to come. Something could come back, you know. He could have bone cancer. So, there [are] a lot of things. But, I have faith in God.”

Hiraldo and his loved ones are grateful for the support from family, friends, peers, teammates, competitors, neighbors, and strangers as he navigates his cancer journey.

“I get a little emotional because you think the [Lebanon] community doesn’t look … after our kids. But, when you have kids that are into sports or, you know, give something back to the community, … you really don’t notice how much people actually notice our kids,” Ana Millan said. “And just the amount of support we’ve gotten, just because he played basketball, from basketball groups all over Lebanon County.”

His mother and aunt both named the varsity and junior varsity basketball games between ELCO and Northern Lebanon as a highlight.

“We went, and each child took out just a couple of seconds to give him some words of encouragement like not to give up and to always remember God is with him and, you know, [that] God will provide and just those little words, it really encouraged him,” his aunt said.

“And that was so nice … because we don’t know them like that because Jariel would play against them,” Sarai Millan said. “But, they took the time to do something for my son. And that was so amazing, so special for me. And I have a lot of gratitude toward the schools.”

“It’s meaningful because, at this point, they think they’re forgotten. Like any, not just him, any child going through cancer, any person going through cancer, … you think you’re forgotten,” his aunt said. But, you know, in reality, just a hello or, you know, just a shout out on [a social media platform] … just to know that … you’re not forgotten.”

Sarai Millan mentioned seemingly little things that made a significant impact on their family, such as basketball players who sent words of encouragement, coaches from competing basketball teams who sent text messages asking for updates, and strangers who sent prayers.

Sarai Millan said, “I want to thank all the schools, all the supporters that [have] been here for Jariel Hiraldo, and his stepdad, his brothers, … all the players of basketball, they [have] been here.”

His aunt and mother then gave LebTown a peek at their family dynamics.

“If you ask him like who I am, he’ll tell you, ‘She’s the paparazzi,'” Ana Millan said, which was a sentiment that his mother echoed.

“I always tell him like … [we’ve] got to capture these moments like even before his cancer journey,” Ana Millan said before recounting positive memories of snapping pictures while on vacation with her children and him as a child.

“My sister-in-law, she’s the paparazzi. She likes to take pictures for everything. I said, ‘That’s good because this is a journey that maybe you [are] going to talk to other kids that maybe they [are] going through the same thing that [you’ve] got to motivate them that you went through this,'” Sarai Millan said.

His mother also said that, during Hiraldo’s cancer journey, they have met and connected with others who are dealing with similar circumstances. She hopes that one day her son will inspire others.

“So hopefully, you know, in the name of Jesus, we [are] going to pass through this. And he’s going to testify later on.”

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Lexi Gonzalez is a reporter for LebTown. She is currently completing her bachelor's degree at Lebanon Valley College.


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