Damon Billeck – It started with a hug on January 31, 2014. Damon’s mother wrapped her arms around him and felt something hard on his left arm. Damon’s dad, Brian, was at work, so she took him to an urgent care facility around 10:30 PM. The doctor took an X-ray, had a suspicion, and sent them to a nearby hospital for further testing. The doctor told them, “There is no way to sugarcoat this, Mr. Billeck. Your son has cancer and we have to deal with it immediately.”
Damon was diagnosed with Osteosarcoma at age nine. After being told he had cancer he cried only once. Shortly after he said, “How do we win?” He never hesitated; he wanted to beat cancer and wanted to do it now.
Despite the damage from the tumor, Damon underwent limb-salvage surgery in April 2014 (a complex operation which removes as much cancerous tissue as possible without amputating the entire limb), followed by ten months of highly-intensive chemotherapy. In January 2015, exactly one year after his diagnosis, Damon was declared N.E.D.: No Evidence of Disease!
Unfortunately, what appeared to be a victory in Damon’s fight against cancer was little more than a respite between rounds. In November 2015, routine scans showed that the cancer had returned to his arm. This time, limb-salvage surgery was not possible; the only option was amputation. Yet Damon refused to give up the fight; as his father notes, “His mother and I cried; Damon did not. He said he understood and he would rather hug us with one arm than to die with two.” After surgery and more chemotherapy, Damon was again declared N.E.D. in September 2016.
Yet, in January 2017, his first routine scan since September showed more bad news: the growth of three new nodules in his lungs. One of these nodules is inside the lining of the lungs—a “pleural metastasis”—which could potentially break through the lining and spread into the pleural fluid surrounding the lungs. Having exhausted all available chemotherapy options, Damon’s oncology team at M.D. Anderson Children’s Cancer Center is now turning to a clinical trial in the hopes that an experimental treatment may prove more successful at finally stopping the cancer growth. It will mean longer stays at the hospital and time away from the family, but his mother gave up her job to make sure Damon is well taken care of and always has someone with him.
Now aged 12, Damon faces this new challenge just as he has faced every one before, with courage and determination to win this fight, no matter how long it takes. Calling himself “Bugsy” after the guinea pig in “Bedtime Stories” with Adam Sandler, he understands the experimental nature of the treatment options available to him. Yet when asked by his doctor if he was ready, he quoted Captain America by saying, “I can do this all day!” Damon’s father says, “Damon is a tough kid, tougher than many, and he will be okay…I told Damon it’s like boxing, sometimes the fight is over in one round, sometimes it goes 15 before you win. It just depends on the competitor. Osteo is a much tougher competitor than we were ready for, but we have too many in his corner and he’s too tough to give up.” He even has Captain America (Chris Evans) in his corner!
Throughout his cancer journey, Damon has never let his personal struggles prevent him from raising awareness about childhood cancer. When Damon’s story caught the attention of musician Pharrell Williams, Williams sent Damon an inspirational video encouraging Damon to “do wondrous things and inspire many.” Damon took this to heart! He became the “spokes-kid” for the WNBA Silver Stars’ cancer program “Assist Against Kids with Cancer”, as well as for the San Antonio Rampage. He also took part in an advertising campaign for University Hospital.
More recently, Damon wanted to find a way to help kids with cancer celebrate their victory over this disease, so he coordinated with the San Antonio Fire Department to secure a bell from an old fire truck. This bell is now on display at University Hospital, where kids can ring it when they receive their final chemotherapy treatment! The bell also memorializes firefighters who have passed away due to occupational cancer. Damon’s public spirit caught the attention of Texas lawmakers, who invited Damon to become “Governor for the Day.” Damon’s first order of business was to proclaim October 7, 2016 “Pediatric Cancer Awareness Day!”