TWIN FALLS, Idaho – He looks like a normal boy with a pair of permanent front teeth growing into a big smile, full cheeks and a head full of dark hair.
But 8-year-old A.J. Azevedo has cancer, and his life is a daily fight with the disease.
"I consider this my wake up call," Azevedo's mom, Kim Knopp, told the Twin Falls Times News in a story published at the end of last week. "It's my opportunity to make this the best for my child, the best that I can."
Azevedo was diagnosed in October with stage two astrocytoma, a type of brain tumor, said Knopp, a single parent. "We cross our fingers and go day by day," she said
Doctors don't know how the tumor emerged on Azevedo's brain stem. They don't know how fast it's growing and they're not going to operate because it could affect his motor abilities.
It was discovered after a routine eye exam, following a screening at Perrine Elementary School, and Knopp said she thought her son was just going to need glasses.
Azevedo is too young for radiation, said his mom, who holds down a full-time job at a retail store when she's not disinfecting her home and taking her son to hospital appointments.
Knopp drives her child to St. Luke's Mountain State Tumor Institute in Boise for weekly treatments including chemotherapy.
Because of his medical treatments and surgeries, A.J., who wants to be a doctor one day, has missed about a month and a half of school.
Fidgeting in a chair in his principal's office at Perrine Elementary School recently, A.J. lifted his shirt and pointed to a small scar in the center of his chest. Underneath the healed wound, there's a portal catheter where doctors can inject drugs and take blood samples.
"You can feel it," he said, pointing to the thin scar on his chest.
But although he is courageous, Azevedo is not immune to frustration.
"I got angry and threw my phone across the room, because I thought it was causing the tumor," he said. He now uses the speakerphone, Knopp said.
The 8-year-old says he's not scared and his mom said he's courageous, but may not understand the full scope of his situation.
"He asked after a surgery, 'Did they get it?'" Knopp said. "I said, 'Buddy, we need to get you old enough so they can radiate it.'"
Knopp tears up when talking about her son's health. She said she tries to be brave for her son.
"I try not to worry around him," Knopp said. "He'd tell the doctor 'my mom cries all the time.'"
Azevedo doesn't complain, but instead worries about other people, his mother said.
"He asked, 'would you be better off without me?'" Knopp said. "I said, 'buddy, you're the whole reason I get up.'"