Peter Caasi is not yet 3 years old, but he can utter his West Palm Beach street address, recite the alphabet and identify the planets by shape and color. He loves books, plants and the toy teepee his mother set up in his bedroom.
To a visitor unaware of his condition, Peter is the sweet, smart boy surrounded by his parents and grandparents in a cozy capsule.
But 11 months ago, this boy was diagnosed with Pre B Acute Lymphocytic Leukemia, a cancer of the bone marrow and blood. Peter’s mother Hayde recalls the cataclysmic day.
“The doctor told me, ‘Your son is really, really sick. Your son has leukemia,’” she says, glancing across the room where a cheerful Peter sits on his father’s lap and watches TV.
For Hayde and her husband Benie, Peter was a miracle baby, one born seemingly healthy after several miscarriages.
But the miracle would bring intense challenges. For nearly a year, Hayde has been laser-focused on Peter’s health, his cancer treatments, the spinal taps, the hospital stays. A former housekeeper, she has created a kind of hyper-clean bubble for her boy, a place that demands frequent laundry cycles, anti-bacterial applications on clean hands, no shoes in Peter’s room and very few visitors.
She sleeps with the boy because she wants to check his temperature during the night to make sure there’s no fever. And when she cooks his meals, she always makes sure there’s an option B simmering on another burner, in case option A makes Peter nauseous.
After regular chemotherapy blasts, the boy’s taste buds play tricks on him. Between those treatments, there is oral chemo in pill form that Peter takes daily.
But also, there is hope – the boy is in remission. It’s a fragile hope, as Peter must survive three more years of medical appointments and hospital stays before doctors declare him cancer-free.
In the meantime, his family struggles to keep up with basic expenses. Originally from the Philippines, the boy’s mother and father, Benie, share a home with Benie’s elderly parents, Ana and Lolo.
Peter’s father works as a housekeeper in Palm Beach to support the household. At home, Hayde and her in-laws live a no-frills life, dedicating their limited funds to providing Peter with as many organic food options as they can afford – or grow.
Household repairs and such have fallen by the wayside as the family dotes over the boy. Peter’s grandparents have planted rows of fruits and greens in the backyard garden. Every morning, before the sun intensifies, they let the boy amble in the garden, beneath the Filipino papaya and calamansi trees.
Sometimes it feels small, this capsule where Peter lives. Some days, he’ll get a burst of energy and run so fast it’s hard to catch up to him. That’s when Hayde reminds herself their life is still so fragile. She prays the rosary each day before a statue of the Virgin Mary and asks that Peter be healed.
He is the child that made her family whole.
“He’s been a blessing to us,” says Hayde. “He’s our good boy.”
Peter Caasi, 2 ½ years old, is the boy in a bubble, for his family protects him from infections at all cost. When he was just 22 months old, Peter was diagnosed with Pre B Acute Lymphocytic Leukemia, a condition that shook his family to the core. He’s endured chemotherapy blasts, daily chemo doses, spinal taps, hospital stays and more. While he’s presently in remission, his condition is fragile. Meantime, his family struggles financially, thanks to the demands of Peter’s illness. Peter loves books, toys and learning. He also loves his backyard and could benefit from a swing set. The family could use grocery gift cards for healthy meals, as well as help with rent, gas and car insurance.
Photography by Greg Lovett/Staff
Nominated by Kids Cancer Foundation