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Fighting Cancer to Be an Eagle

Emiliano Ortiz being recognized by San Elizario Board of Trustees September 20, 2023


SAN ELIZARIO, TEXAS – The San Elizario Independent School District (SEISD) has had a special ambassador who continues to bring awareness regarding childhood cancer. As a first-year student at San Elizario High School (SEHS), Emiliano Ortiz is fourteen years of age; he knows the fight for his life to beat cancer has been the most critical challenge his young life has had to contend with. SEISD has permission from Emiliano’s mother, Cristina Esparza, to translate and share his story.


On March 7, 2023, Emiliano went to bed with what his mother recalls: “A cough that persisted very intensely and a high fever as the evening progressed.” The decision to take Emiliano to the doctor the following morning would prove life-saving and introduce a cancer diagnosis into Emiliano’s life journey. As described by Emiliano’s mother, Cristina, “The cancer was a tumor the size of twenty centimeters, which was pressing on Emiliano’s chest against his heart.”


To put this into perspective, the tumor size was approximately 7 inches. The diagnosis was so severe that Emiliano and his mother were flown to another hospital facility in Houston, Texas, within twenty-four hours of arriving at the El Paso Children's Hospital. It was in Houston where Emiliano’s mother found out her son had tested positive for COVID-19, but that became a secondary concern as doctors feared that Emiliano would have a heart attack because of the pressure the tumor placed on his heart. Emiliano recalls feeling different emotions in his body. He states, “I knew about cancer; I heard the word but did not know what it meant.” 


All this happened the week Emiliano went out for spring break in his eighth-grade year at the Ann M. Garcia-Enriquez Middle School (GEMS). Emiliano went from being actively engaged in sports such as football, soccer, track, and wrestling to being unable to participate in any physical activity due to his delicate immune system. Emiliano’s chemotherapy treatments for cancer would cause him to feel weak and lose weight; his appetite was impacted, and he often felt nauseous. With tears rolling down his cheeks, he vividly recalls, “I asked God to help me.” He credits his faith and mother for helping him through the most challenging times.


He also thanks his GEMS peers for keeping his spirits high during this challenging period. He states, “My friends kept in contact with me as we played video games online. They always encouraged me to stay positive and keep fighting.” Emiliano concluded his chemotherapy a few weeks after he began his first year in high school and is being regularly monitored.  


Emiliano is now an eagle in high school. Remaining a student in San Elizario was important to Emiliano as his older siblings are all San Elizario alumni, and he has a younger sibling who attends GEMS. His fight with cancer helped push him to keep fighting until he was healthy enough to return to school. Since returning to class, he is now among his friends. His mother reminds him, “Emiliano, you are here for a purpose.” Emiliano has taken every opportunity to bring awareness by sharing his cancer story. Most recently, he spoke to an audience of adults at the SEISD Mission Progressing Together Parent meeting about the importance of getting their children checked, even if they think it may be allergies or a simple cough. Emiliano was also recently honored by the SEISD Board of Trustees at the September Meeting and will again be honored at the SEHS Homecoming Football game.