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The Canto family has experienced unimaginable hardships over the past year.

It started last August, when Cesar Canto, a 35-year-old Santa Barbara resident who works in the IT department at UC Santa Barbara, was diagnosed with olfactory neuroblastoma, an extremely rare form of cancer that starts in the nerves and affects the sense of smell.

Canto underwent three surgeries, one of which was particularly complicated and entailed removing part of his skull. He completed treatment, including 33 rounds of radiation, in December, and thought he was on the road to recovery.

But one month later, his wife, Alicia, was diagnosed with stage-3 breast cancer.

At just 34 years old, and without a history of this type of cancer, Alicia was shocked.

“I couldn’t believe it,” she told Noozhawk. “At first I didn’t understand what was happening, and it was an incredibly stressful and scary time.”


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Family friends have launched a community fundraising campaign to assist Alicia and Cesar Canto, and their three children, Evony, Selena and Josh, while they each battle rare forms of cancer. (Canto family photos)

Alicia said she had felt a mass in her breast, and immediately saw her doctor, who ordered a mammogram and biopsy.

Four days after feeling the lump, Alicia was diagnosed with invasive lobular carcinoma, an uncommon form of breast cancer that has the potential to spread to lymph nodes and other areas of the body.

The round of surgeries would resume for the Cantos, who have three children, Evony, 17, Selena, 16, and Josh, 12.

“It’s taken me a while to process everything,” Cesar admitted. “What are the odds that my wife and I would have back-to-back cancers? It’s surreal.

“Having the kids at home has really helped,” he said. “We have to be strong for them, and we try to continue as best we can with sports and school.”

The children are all active in school sports, and Evony, who will graduate from San Marcos High School in June, plans to play soccer at Alfred University in New York.

“I’m definitely nervous, but also excited for a new environment,” Evony said. “I’ve always wanted to play college soccer, so I’m glad to have that opportunity.”

But paying for college will be a hardship. Alicia said San Marcos counselors are helping her pursue possible scholarships, but she worries that being out of work to undergo treatments will clearly have devastating financial impacts on her family.

Alicia is facing six rounds of chemotherapy, 33 sessions of radiation and five years of hormonal therapy. She has taken an indefinite leave of absence from her job as an accounting supervisor, and is nervous about how she’ll feel with the aggressive treatments.

“Everything happened so fast and was so unexpected,” Alicia said. “It has certainly made me appreciate the time with my children, and even made me miss the mundane parts of my daily routine – like showering and dressing myself.”

The enormity of the challenge is not lost on her children.

“It’s rough for me to see my parents so vulnerable and not being able to do what they were able to do,” said Selena, a San Marcos sophomore. “It’s a lot of emotions at once. It’s stressful because you can hope for the best and receive the worst news, and it’s heartbreaking.”

“We are a strong and tight family, and I know this is going to be a long process but we’ll get through it,” Evony added.

Family friends have established a GoFundMe account to help the Cantos cover mounting medical expenses, college tuition and living costs that are challenging with one salary alone.

“The family is grateful for the help they received during Cesar’s treatment but, up until now, they have not asked for anything beyond our love and support,” Lisa Rothstein, the organizer, said in a post on the site.

“But after this unimaginable turn of events, they need more, they need financial support from the community.”

As of Sunday, the account had raised nearly $26,000 toward the goal of $50,000. Click here to make an online donation.

— Ann Pieramici is a Noozhawk contributing writer. She can be reached at [email protected].

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