Maui boy battling eye cancer is home again

Cru Silva, 2, to throw first pitch at MPD-MFD fundraiser game today

Danette Silva carries grandson, Cru, on Thursday afternoon outside her home in Kahului. The 2-year-old returned home a few weeks ago after undergoing chemotherapy for nearly a year due to tumors in both of his eyes. -- The Maui News / CHRIS SUGIDONO photo

KAHULUI — Cru Silva ran around his living room Thursday afternoon building forts out of cushions and pushing toy garbage trucks on the carpet of his Kahului home.

The 2-year-old is enjoying time at home with friends and family after spending nearly a year undergoing chemotherapy treatments for tumors in both of his eyes. He and his mother returned to Maui from California a few weeks ago after his condition stabilized for the first time.

“Right now, we’re trying to take it one day at a time and getting used to a new normal,” Janelle Silva said.

In October 2017, Cru was diagnosed with bilateral retinoblastoma — an eye cancer that affects 1 in 20,000 children each year, according to the National Center for Biotechnology Information. An 11-millimeter tumor was found in his left eye and multiple smaller tumors, or vitreous seeds, were discovered in his right eye.

Cru endured six rounds of systemic chemotherapy and three rounds of intra-arterial chemotherapy, which delivers drugs directly to a tumor through a thin catheter and reduces exposure to healthy tissues, at Stanford University’s Lucille Packard Children’s Hospital in California. He also received a couple rounds of chemotherapy injections directly into his eye.

Shane Silva (from left) holds son, Cru, 2, and stands next to wife, Janelle, and their other son, Blaze, 9, on Thursday afternoon in their Kahului home. Cru will be honored at today’s softball game between Maui police and firefighters at Ichiro “Iron” Maehara Baseball Stadium. -- The Maui News / CHRIS SUGIDONO photo

“The original plan was to get rid of his left eye,” Silva said. “Doctors said the tumor was too invasive, and they were afraid it was going to spread. They were telling us he most likely will lose his left eye but we’ll see.”

Doctors also used a combination of laser beams and cryotherapy to kill retinoblastoma cells behind Cru’s eyeballs. After six months, his right eye tumor flattened and became inactive, but his left eye tumor shrunk by only 3 millimeters.

Further treatment eventually reduced it to 2.5 millimeters, which encouraged doctors enough to send them home.

“He said, ‘I think it’s stable enough and the tumor is as small as it can be. We don’t have to remove the eye,’ ” Silva recalled a doctor saying.

While treatments saved Cru’s left eye, toxins from chemotherapy kept it shut for a full month, Silva said. She said his eyesight is probably limited and the muscles of his eyelids are weak.

Cru Silva is shown in a photo from November, when he was just beginning treatment for eye cancer. The 2-year-old is finally back on Maui with friends and family after spending nearly a year in California undergoing chemotherapy treatments for tumors in both eyes. -- The Maui News / CHRIS SUGIDONO photo

“His neurologist was saying we just have to wait and see if his eye will eventually function normally,” she said. “If the eyelid will open completely and if his eyeball will track like his right eye. It’s actually a lot better. It’s been slowly making progress and moves a little more every day.

“It’s normal for it to take several months . . . but they are not certain if it’ll go back to 100 percent.”

Cru will have to fly back to Stanford once a month so doctors can monitor tumor growth until he turns 5. He also will need an MRI every three months to monitor his eyes and brain.

It still remains a mystery to Silva and her husband, Shane, as to how their son contracted the disease.

“Like with all childhood cancers, there’s not much research,” Silva said. “All these kids are like guinea pigs — hoping for the best and preparing for the worst.”

Despite suffering through hours of chemotherapy and needles to his eyes, Cru has remained energetic and is always smiling. The toddler keeps busy by watching videos and playing with his garbage trucks, firetrucks and police cars, which he adores for their loud noises.

“He keeps us going,” his father said. “He gives us energy. He’s like ‘C’mon dad, c’mon mom.’ ”

They have an older son, Blaze, 9, who was diagnosed with autism three years ago. He found it difficult adjusting to life without his mother for long periods of time.

“It was a hard transition for him, too,” Janelle Silva said. “Autistic kids are very structured, and it was very hard at first for him to understand what was going on, but also to have mom and brother gone for months and not know why. The cancer doesn’t just affect the kid, it affects everyone. Everyone’s lives changed.”

Cru and his parents have inspired friends, family and complete strangers in their battle with cancer. She said she is regularly asked how her family stays strong for their two sons in the face of their challenges. She replies: “mommy and daddy mode just kicks in.”

“As a parent you do what you have to do,” she said. “You don’t think about it. Your focus is you just want your kids to be better, and as a parent you’ll do whatever it takes to make sure your child is safe.”

Shane Silva encouraged parents to take their children to see an eye doctor and hopes to see increased awareness of bilateral retinoblastoma. He said they first discovered something was wrong with their son’s eyes in a photograph at a party.

“We encouraged all our friends to take the time to take their kids to the eye doctor because the general wellness checkups didn’t find it,” he said. “Every time we took him, they said he’s healthy.”

Cru has received $20,000 in donations through a GoFundMe website. The money will help his family with medical expenses as well as future flights to Stanford for monthly checkups.

Cru also will be honored at today’s softball game between the Maui Police Department and Maui Fire Department at Ichiro “Iron” Maehara Baseball Stadium. First pitch is set for 6 p.m.

Proceeds from the game will go to the Pacific Cancer Foundation, which provides patient navigation, nutritional support, transportation, wellness classes and a support group for those with cancer and their families. Gates open at 4:30 p.m.

Tickets are $5 for adults, $3 for children 12 and under and senior citizens.

The Silvas have been overwhelmed by the community support and backing of their social media hashtag #CruStrong online. They said they are honored Cru will be throwing out the first pitch at the softball game.

“I just want to thank the whole community of Maui,” Janelle Silva said. “It takes a village and ours was huge. The local businesses, our friends, and families, people we don’t even know. It’s so amazing.”

To donate to Cru Silva, visit www.gofundme.com/CruSilva or email janellekristine@gmail.com.

* Chris Sugidono can be reached at csugidono@mauinews.com.

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