California Soldier Returns From Afghanistan to Join Son in Cancer Fight

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    NEWSLETTERS

    NBC Bay Area's Monte Francis shows how an East Bay family is fighting for hope in the face of a rare form of cancer. (Published Monday, Mar 3, 2014)

    A California soldier has cut his second deployment to Afghanistan short in order to be with his 6-year-old son, who is battling a rare form of bone cancer called osteosarcoma.

    As with any big fight, this one includes moments of hope and setbacks. One of those setbacks came Monday, when 6-year-old J.J. Orecchia was supposed to have his right leg amputated. The surgery was expected to prolong his life by four to five years, but an infection has now forced the doctors at UC San Francisco’s Children’s Hospital to call off the operation.

    A year ago, the Hayward, Calif., boy was a healthy and active 5-year-old. Today, he’s fighting for his life.

    “J.J. is feisty,” said Andrew Foster, a friend of the boy’s father, Will, who did not feel up to talking to reporters. “He’s a feisty young boy, a lot of love.”

    Foster is among those at UCSF’s Children’s Hospital to support J.J. He is in the same Army unit as the boy’s father, who returned home from a second tour in Afghanistan early to be near his little boy.

    “We’re gonna keep praying, and we’re gonna get through this,” Foster said.

    But word that a potentially life-prolonging surgery is no longer possible comes as a blow.

    “His parents are devastated, heartbroken and they can’t breathe,” said Susana Maumalanga, J.J.’s aunt. “They’re taking it one day at a time.”

    For now, the family is trying to focus on the moments of joy and the time they have together.

    “I wanted the Bay area to think about J.J. today, and to see his fight, and to see us wearing yellow, teaching about osteosarcoma,” Maumalanga said.

    J.J. is now expected to undergo more chemo. His family has insurance, but insurance only covers so much.

    Family members said they are trying to raise money to pay their share of J.J.’s medical bills, which have already reached $100,000.

    In addition to an online crowdfunding effort, they are working to set up a foundation so people can donate.