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The night before his fourth brain surgery, Jesús García sits outside his home — a two-car garage converted into an apartment in which he lives with his mother, three sisters, brother and niece. Jesús was told by his doctor that the surgery could leave him paralyzed or blind. He was also informed that there was a possibility that he would not wake up from the surgery at all. Either way, the tumor would not be completely removed. This would only buy Jesús some time.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Arkasha Stevenson / Los Angeles Times

Peering out the bus window, Jesús García, 19, travels home after receiving chemotherapy at Children's Hospital Los Angeles.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Arkasha Stevenson / Los Angeles Times

Valentina Gonzalez, 39, checks the stove as her granddaughter Itzel, 2, waits for her bath and the toddler's aunt, Jessica García, 21, and her mother, Claudia García, 23, wash Valentina's son, Stuart, 1, in the kitchen sink.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Arkasha Stevenson / Los Angeles Times

Still well enough to leave the house, Jesús García, reaches out to his niece Itzel as she is held by his sister Claudia García, while attending church at Iglesia Penecostes Maranatha in Los Angeles. As the tumor in the right hemisphere of Jesús' brain continued to grow, his left side became weaker and weaker, making it difficult for him to go out.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Arkasha Stevenson / Los Angeles Times

A week before his fourth brain surgery, Jesús García talks to Children's Hospital nursing care manager Barbara Britt. As Jesús' steroid intake has increased, so have tensions with his family. Britt explains to him that with the upcoming surgery, he is going to need his family around him.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Arkasha Stevenson / Los Angeles Times

Quietly lost in their anxieties, Jesús García, waits with his mother, Valentina Gonzalez, in pre-op at Children's Hospital Los Angeles before his fourth brain surgery. While the surgery could leave Jesús blind, paralyzed or worse, surgeons hoped that removing part of the tumor could afford Jesús an extra few months of life. However, only a month after the seven-hour surgery, an MRI revealed significant regrowth of the tumor.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Arkasha Stevenson / Los Angeles Times

In the last moments before surgery, Valentina Gonzales kisses her son Jesús García goodbye. Groggy from the anesthesia, Jesús is still clutching the teddy bear given to him by a nurse.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Arkasha Stevenson / Los Angeles Times

After anxiously waiting over seven hours for her son Jesús García to emerge from brain surgery safely, Valentina Gonzalez takes in a deep breath.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Arkasha Stevenson / Los Angeles Times

After his fourth brain surgery, Jesús García is left with a massive scar zig-zagging across the right side of his scalp. Jesús recalled "feeling like a monster" because of his scar from his initial surgeries. "They told me this one would be bigger."

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Arkasha Stevenson / Los Angeles Times

With the help of Ricardo Ruiz, Valentina Gonzalez is able to transfer her son Jesús García to a wheelchair with a head support. Valentina and his sister Claudia try to take him outside as much as they can. However, as Jesús' body deteriorated this became harder and harder.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Arkasha Stevenson / Los Angeles Times

Two days before his death the sound of Jesús García's heavy breathing fills the room as his sister, Claudia García strokes his face at their home in South Los Angeles.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Arkasha Stevenson / Los Angeles Times

Valentina Gonzalez holds up her son Jesús García before helping him to the bathroom. After surgery, Jesús' left side began to deteriorate rapidly. Nearly two months after his return home from the hospital he was completely bed bound.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Arkasha Stevenson / Los Angeles Times

Tears stream down Valentina Gonzalez's face while she strokes the face of her dying son, Jesús García. After four brain surgeries, doctors were unable to contain a tumor growing in the right hemisphere of Jesús' brain. After he endured a seizure days earlier, Jesús condition made a turn for the worse, leaving Valentina keeping vigil at his bedside late into the night.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Arkasha Stevenson / Los Angeles Times

Jesús García is surrounded by a prayer group from Iglesia Pentecostes Maranatha. His mother weeps by his right shoulder, and his sister Claudia holds his atrophied legs as she prays.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Arkasha Stevenson / Los Angeles Times

Fatigue overcomes Valentina Gonzalez as she keeps vigil over her son Jesús García, and tends to her other son, Stuart, right, and her granddaughter, Itzel.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Arkasha Stevenson / Los Angeles Times

Valentina Gonzalez collapses beside the bed where her dead son lies. Jesús García, 19, died the night before but his mother and sisters Jessica and Claudia were not ready to part with the body.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Arkasha Stevenson / Los Angeles Times

After keeping vigil over her brother's lifeless body all night long, Claudia García breaks down as it is taken away. She is comforted by her friend Kimberly Barrios.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Arkasha Stevenson / Los Angeles Times

A bible rests on Jesús García's deathbed days after his death.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Arkasha Stevenson / Los Angeles Times

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A young man faces death with bravado

By Arkasha Stevenson

“Hola, Snow White!”

That’s how Jesús, who was suffering from terminal cancer, would greet me. Even when he was sick in bed and not even sure where he was.

I had met Jesús months before his fourth brain surgery, and he agreed to have the rest of his life photographed for a story to run in the Los Angeles Times.

I don’t know if either of us truly understood the gravity of the contract that we entered into until the very end.

Jesús had invited us to witness his death. He told me he wanted to do the story so that “other dudes with cancer would know that everything would be OK.”

It didn’t end up being OK for Jesús.

No matter how many surgeries or treatments he had, the tumor in his brain kept growing back. Where is the message of hope in that? What were we telling the “other dudes with cancer?” It leaves you shaking your head and wondering how and why these things happen. Teenagers aren’t supposed to die. Doctors are supposed to cure the afflicted.  If you think positively and fight hard, everything will work out.

As I worked on this story about Jesús and his family, those beliefs were painfully stripped away from me one at a time.  I found when those comforts were gone, I wanted to turn my head from the situation. It was then I realized that witnessing this frequently hidden side of the human condition was a gift rarely given.

I see Jesús and his family’s participation in this story as a great public service.  Valentina, Jesús’ mom, and Claudia, Jesús’ sister, never hesitated to open the door for me. They would always let me in, tell me how skinny I was and then try to feed me. They never told me to put my camera down.

At the expense of their own privacy, Jesús and his family have given us the opportunity to reflect on our own mortality and thus reconnect to the human condition.

We are born. We celebrate. We mourn. We die.

One does not come without the other. I believe that whether you have a connection with Jesús or not, his story has provided a window onto the most intimate and vulnerable of human experiences – life and death.

Read the full story “A young man’s fateful dance with death


  1. December 22, 2012, 10:30 am

    if this story did not move you, please go to your local police department immediately and report the theft of your heart…

    By: pedroppzafamilypp
  2. December 22, 2012, 11:36 am

    god bless his soul. remember to enjoy everyday with your loved ones. i will, godbless his family. be strong hes in a better place in heaven

  3. December 23, 2012, 11:42 am

    What an amazing and courageous story! Thank you for covering this darker story with such raw compassion.

  4. December 30, 2012, 11:52 pm

    Dios tiene el control sobre todos los hombres. Gracias Dios por permitirnos vivir y apreciar la salud que nos has dado. Dios tenia un plan para este joven. Nosotros no lo sabemos o y no lo comprenderiamos. Dios tiene un plan para aquellos que han leido esta historia.

  5. March 10, 2013, 8:38 am

    I do not want to be insensitive but all that I see are a ton of young children that cannot be taken care of, hundreds if not millions of dollars in hospital bills that will never be paid for except for by the tax payer

    How are we to pay for all of it?

    By: Hugo
  6. March 13, 2013, 2:57 pm

    vaya con dios Jesús…'re free and whole again now :')

    By: raphael
  7. March 15, 2013, 11:14 pm

    this story really moved me. thanks for reporting on a sensitive topic with respect and care to the family. it was well written. It made me think of what are all the good things in front of me that I forget to see. Being a student, I sometimes get greedy and frustrated in not getting what others have. well I could be this poor man, who barely went to experience college and pursue his dreams.


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