As thousands of fans descend on Candlestick Park to see the vaunted San Francisco 49ers take on the St. Louis Rams Sunday, the story of one spectator from North San Juan will supersede all of the typical game-day story lines.
Taylor Martines, a 12-year-old boy from North San Juan, was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia Jan. 5, 2011, when he was only 10.
“It was devastating,” said Jessica Martines, his mother. “He is my only child.”
Taylor never succumbed to the despondency that afflicts adults who find themselves with similarly dreadful diagnoses; Jessica Martines said his positive attitude was vital in his battle against the potentially fatal disease.
“I recently spoke with my son, and I asked him if he ever feared for his life,” she said. “He seemed shocked I even asked him that. Young people have that kind of magical thinking, and I don’t think it ever even crossed his mind. Somewhere deep in his mind, he always knew he would overcome this.”
And overcome it he did.
Taylor is in full remission from the childhood leukemia that robbed him of a year and a half of normal youth.
“I feel good,” he said nonchalantly.
Taylor, in the seventh grade at Grizzly Hill School on the San Juan Ridge, has been playing for the school’s flag football team, scoring touchdowns, making tackles and running around with the exuberance that is customary for his age.
But just years before, he felt lethargic, and those around him began to notice that he didn’t look well.
“I was at my grandfather’s house, and he said I looked pale,” Taylor said.
The next day, the family repaired to the doctor’s office, which referred him to UC Davis Medical Center in Sacramento. Upon making the diagnosis, doctors began a brutal regimen of chemotherapy the next day.
“It was all the things you can imagine,” Jessica Martines said. “The loss of hair, losing weight, a lack of appetite and vomiting.”
Taylor said the toughest part was being away from his friends and classmates.
Chemotherapy isolates patients, whose compromised immune systems necessitate a removal from others who could be agents of bacteria or virus.
“My son kept me positive,” Jessica Martines said. “He beautifully found a way to use humor to keep himself and people around him sane.”
Just before the diagnosis, when the family was collectively on pins and needles, wondering what was wrong, a nurse went to put an IV in Taylor’s arm, and he requested an IV full of root beer.
It was quips such as this that allowed the family to persevere through the difficulties of fighting cancer.
At the beginning of the school year, Taylor was once again allowed to join his classmates.
He is by all accounts a normal middle school student, practicing hacky-sacking and following the 49ers football team.
His ardent wish has been the opportunity to go to a 49ers game at Candlestick to see his favorite team play in person.
Recently, the Make-A-Wish foundation, the high-profile nonprofit that arranges experiences for children facing life-threatening medical conditions, intervened and will make Taylor’s dream a reality Sunday.
“It will be my first game,” he said, adding that his favorite players are Vernon Davis and Frank Gore.
While the players of both football teams align themselves on either side of the fiercely fought-over line of scrimmage, the game announcers will throw around the superlatives that typically accompany the weekly contests — nouns like courage, perseverance and belief.
Meanwhile, it will be a 12-year-old sitting anonymously in the stands who truly embodies those characteristics.
To contact Staff Writer Matthew Renda, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 530-477-4239.