After battling cancer for three years, P.J. Moura’s thoughts have turned from pills and needles to life as a “superhero.”
The 8-year-old, now in remission from acute lymphoblastic leukemia, was given a dream flight recently from Above the Clouds, an organization that brings joy and hope to sick children through the wonder of small airplane flight.
P.J. and his family and friends were invited to Norwood Airport “for a day we will never forget,” said P.J.’s mom, Sarah Montgomery.
“It was fun,” P.J. said. “I really liked the plane.”
Montgomery said her son was completely healthy until he experienced flu-like symptoms and bruising at the age of 3.
Those are common symptoms of acute lymphoblastic leukemia, a cancer of the blood and bone marrow that is more curable in children than adults.
P.J. was diagnosed on Feb. 12, 2011, with a high-risk type of the disease. It was discovered at Boston Children’s Hospital that P.J. had a tumor in his lung that was collapsing his airway. His liver and kidneys were shutting down.
“When a doctor said the words no parent should hear: ‘Your child has cancer,’ the feeling is indescribable. It feels like your world crumbles right in front of you,” Montgomery wrote in an email to The Herald News describing her son’s ordeal.
P.J. was admitted into the hospital where his parents stayed with him for the next 71 days. On life support, the toddler’s outlook was bleak. But doctors were able to stabilize P.J., and he started cranial radiation two days before his fourth birthday.
Over the next two and a half years, P.J. had high-dose chemotherapy, oral chemotherapy and high doses of steroids, plus some 35 lumbar punctures and spinal taps.
In the spring of 2013, P.J. was proclaimed cancer-free.
“My son is my hero and always will be,” Montgomery said. “He has defied all odds and fought a fight that no child should endure.”
At Norwood Airport, a large group had assembled to see the little boy get into the airplane. They held signs and cheered. With the pilot, P.J. visited the air tower and the pilot’s lounge, where they mapped out a flight plan.
The small aircraft carried P.J., his sister Hannah, 14, and his parents.
Perhaps his ordeal is what gave P.J. the courage to fly an aircraft at such a young age. Clutching a map and wearing aviator glasses inside the plane, P.J. kept track of his mother’s nerves and asked her several times if she was all right.
Once they received clearance from Logan Airport in Boston, they flew over Fenway Park and Gillette Stadium, and into Fall River, where P.J. got to take control of the airplane for a few minutes. They were greeted far down on the ground in Kennedy Park by a crowd, including Fall River firefighters and friends all waving to the sky.
“It was a moment that was indescribable,” Montgomery said. “He was amazed.
“My son finally had control, no more nurses and doctors poking him, no more poison being put into my baby’s body, no more crying ourselves to sleep scared that my son wouldn’t wake in the morning.
“None of that. Just my 8-year-old superhero flying a plane,” Montgomery recalled.
Two days after the flight, P.J. was treated to a visit with local firefighters at the Globe and Plymouth Avenue stations.
Today, P.J. is a regular student at Henry Lord Community School. Montgomery said he has some side effects from the cancer treatments, but luckily no learning disabilities from the cranial radiation.
Montgomery, who has never contacted the press until now to tell her story, said she wanted to promote Childhood Cancer Awareness Month in September.
“Please spread awareness for childhood cancer,” Montgomery wrote. “Wear gold and fight for more funding. Our kids deserve it.
“And, always remember, I had two healthy children on Feb. 11, 2011. This can happen to anyone.”