A Pandemic Magnified: How Testing Positive for COVID-19 Led to a Cancer Diagnosis

Extreme weakness, fatigue and all of the well-known symptoms that accompanied COVID-19 are what prompted 23-year-old Franco Galinda to seek testing that confirmed he had the virus which was rampant in our communities, and changed the world, as we knew it. After two weeks of self-isolation, his health was not improving, and a dizzy spell that led to fainting landed him in the hospital in January 2021.

“After being admitted and having further testing and X-rays on my chest, the only thing on my mind was that I was going to be put on a ventilator for my lungs,” says Franco. “Unfortunately, it was worse than I could have ever imagined -- I learned that I had a mass in my chest and abnormal white blood cells. Doctors believed I could have cancer and was in need of special care immediately.”

At the onset of the pandemic, Valley Children’s offered assistance to overwhelmed hospitals by accepting young patients up to the age of 26. Adult hospitals from San Francisco to San Diego were full, so Franco was transported to Valley Children’s where he received care from the experts at the Valley Children’s Cancer and Blood Disorders Center.

“We diagnosed Franco with T cell acute lymphoblastic leukemia. As a young adult, Franco is part of a unique population with this condition, and he would have specific needs that are supported by pediatric protocols,” explains Franco’s oncologist at Valley Children’s, Dr. Faisal Razzaqi. “At diagnosis, Franco required admission to an intensive care unit for several issues. We had to balance treating his leukemia and the potential side effects of that treatment, with the specific challenges that COVID presented as well. He responded well to therapy and achieved remission, the point where leukemia is no longer detectable.”

Photo of Franco undergoing treatment

Franco undergoing treatment

After an inpatient stay and a few rounds of chemotherapy, Franco would face new challenges upon discharge – how to manage his vulnerable condition in a divided world that was shut down and filled with uncertainty.

“Life with cancer meant I had to adjust to hospitals, doctors, needles, medicine and a new set of  struggles that used to be some of the most basic daily tasks,” explains Franco. “Fortunately, for me, I had Dr. Razzaqi who felt like a friend and motivated me to stay strong and keep a positive attitude – a mindset that would get me through my toughest days.”

“The good news is that survival for T cell acute lymphoblastic leukemia using pediatric protocols is approximately 92%. Franco did have some challenges with regard to the treatment, but our ultimate hope is that he will be cured of his cancer,” explains Dr. Razzaqi. “Although the COVID pandemic has impacted care across the world, for Franco it meant that he was redirected to Valley Children’s Hospital where he could receive the best care and support so that he can eventually return to his life prior to cancer. Franco and his family are wonderful people and we are honored to be a part of his care team.”

Photo of Franco after treatment

Franco, smiling and ready for the future

“Today, I am in the maintenance phase of chemo, and it feels like time has flown by. As difficult as COVID-19 has made this past year, it opened the door that led to my diagnosis and treatment,” adds Franco. “So while I may have a long ways to go, I am more confident than ever – with my family and medical care team by my side – I can handle it!”

While Franco shed 65 pounds, he gained the courage to face a new reality during an unprecedented time.

Learn More about the Valley's Leading Pediatric Cancer Center

As one of the leading pediatric cancer facilities on the West Coast, Valley Children's Cancer and Blood Disorders Center provides the breadth of specialized services and depth of experience to treat a range of cancer and blood disorder conditions. The Center includes an outpatient unit with treatment rooms, an infusion center, a play area and a fully-equipped, 36-bed inpatient unit. Learn more about the pediatric oncology expertise at Valley Children's >>