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Teeing off against cancer

Bexar County sheriff’s deputy helps other fathers fight the disease

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Johnny Gonzalez takes a shot from the 'King of the Throne' hole during the Putting 4 Pops annual charity golf event at Fair Oaks Ranch Golf & Country Club. Photo by Noi Mahoney

In the fall of 2017, Brandon Rivas only hoped he might survive his life-threatening cancer long enough to have the honor of taking the ceremonious initial stroke at the Putting 4 Pops annual charity golf event.

On Nov. 5, 2018, the far North Side resident didn’t just achieve his goal, he did so as one of the newest board members of the all-volunteer based benefit, which raises money for dads fighting cancer.

“The first putt was very emotional for me,” said Rivas, a deputy with the Bexar County Sheriff’s Office. He battled the rare anaplastic T-cell ALK non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, receiving a lifesaving transplant and chemotherapy. He is now in remission.

“Of course, I was thrilled because I have beat the odds and am doing well. However, I was reminded of those who are no longer with us. It was a true blessing to discover Putting 4 Pops,” he added.

The tourney, founded by Jaime Luna, was a way to help a family member grappling with financial hardship while battling cancer.

“We are all familiar with the many wonderful, deserving and very necessary fundraising opportunities for women or children fighting cancer, but there is not a lot of nonprofits that focus on the niche of dads with cancer,” Luna said.

Rivas, who lives in Stone Oak with his spouse and three children, was diagnosed in May 2017. His symptoms included severe itching all over his body and swelling in several lymph nodes.

“The cancer I was diagnosed with is very aggressive, so the treatment for it had to be aggressive,” Rivas said.

His doctors had to heavily boost his chemotherapy treatment to eliminate any remnants of the illness. The downside was that heavy doses of chemo destroy bone marrow. He required a lifesaving stem-cell transplant Nov. 8, 2017.

“Nov. 8 is my new birthday,” Rivas said. “I feel I am very lucky. I have not really been affected by side effects from the transplant procedure.”

After the operation, Rivas spent 30 days in the hospital; recovery came slowly.

“When I went home, I had to be very careful about cleanliness, because of how weak my system was,” the five-year Sheriff’s Office veteran said. “The Sheriff’s Department was extremely supportive. I was off for an entire year, but I am back to work now.”

Rivas said like many cancer patients, he wrestled with health care costs and unexpected expenditures. Co-workers proved very helpful, but the medical bills and cost-of-living expenses continued to mount.

Rivas’ wife, Amy, is a nurse and took on three jobs to keep up.

“We were really grasping to pay bills,” Brandon Rivas said. “(I) heard about Putting 4 Pops, and turned in an application (and) got accepted.”

The family was chosen by Putting 4 Pops to be one of its 2017 fund recipients; the cancer survivor accepted a $5,000 check.

“Everything turned around in my life. Putting 4 Pops has been unbelievable and helped tremendously,” Rivas said.

Luna’s uncle, Humberto Romero, diagnosed with Stage 4 lung cancer, was the first Putting 4 Pops beneficiary. After an eight-month battle, Romero died.

The Romeros were snowed under by bills, Luna said.

“We were scrambling to find ways to raise money,” he added. “I have a good network of business colleagues, so I said, ‘Let’s have a charity golf tournament and get the business community to help any way it can.’”

Luna said the organization is always looking for sponsors and donations. Putting 4 Pops is also seeking patients to apply for aid.

“The check presentations are always emotional, when people get to see who they are doing this for and how the person is dealing with cancer,” Luna said.

The Fair Oaks Ranch Golf & Country Club charity event, now in its fourth year, has drawn people from across San Antonio.

“My dad passed away in 2017. He was a recipient of Putting 4 Pops in 2016,” said Janine Preciado Sanchez, the daughter of Albert Preciado Jr.

Preciado, a successful local entrepreneur, suffered from cholangiocarcinoma, a bile-duct cancer.

His widow, Janie, said taking part in Putting 4 Pops pays tribute to her husband.

“It’s a way to keep his memory alive, keep money for cancer patients, research going, honor Albert,” Janie Preciado said. “We know what cancer patients go through. (Putting 4 Pops) is another way to bring awareness.”

For more about the nonprofit, visit http://www.putting4pops.org/.

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