Isley Cachero: Fighting to be the 1%

Isley Cachero: Fighting to be the 1%

Isley Cachero stands in his dorm in Villa Maria. He has lived in Villa for four years now.

by Annika Gordon / The Beacon

For senior Isley Cachero, it started with headaches that progressively got worse. Then, he started to stutter his speech. He thought it was just stress, but the symptoms continued into winter break in 2018. He was in for a routine check-up, mentioning to the doctor briefly what he was feeling. 

“She heard me stutter a word three times,” Cachero said. “That’s when she prompted the emergency MRI.”

On Jan. 5 2019, the results showed a tumor about the size of a golf ball located in a very sensitive area of the brainstem called the pons, devastating Cachero and his family. Cachero was diagnosed with Diffuse Intrinsic Pontine Glioma (DIPG) his junior year, a rare and aggressive tumor on the brain stem, affecting critical bodily functions including breathing and blood pressure. 

“My mom was already with the doctor, and I saw her already wiping away her tears,” Cachero said. “That’s when she told me I had a brain tumor.”

Isley Cachero (far right) with his family. From left to right, Dana Lee (mother), Marcus Iaea (younger half-brother), Kiley Cachero (older sister), and Alex Cachero (father). Photo courtesy of Isley Cachero.

Since his day of diagnosis, Cachero has woken up every morning wondering if this day will be his last.

“For the first time, my life was unpredictable,” Cachero said. “I'm not sure what’s gonna happen next.”

After being diagnosed, Cachero decided to take a medical leave from UP for the 2019 spring semester to stay home in Honolulu, Hawaii, to begin treatment right away. February and March consisted of chemotherapy and radiation at the most aggressive dose that can be safely administered.

Because of the rarity of this cancer — 150 to 300 new cases found a year — there is little research. There have been no advances in treatment over the past 40 years. DIPG remains a mystery, making it the leading cause of death in pediatric brain tumors. Only about 1% of those diagnosed with DIPG survive beyond five years.

“I will have this tumor for the rest of my life. There is a 1% chance that this tumor is cured,” Cachero said. “I just want to be that 1%.”

DIPG patients typically only live for less than a year after their diagnosis, specifically ranging from 8 to 11 months. But for adults like Cachero, research suggests that patients live 30 to 40 months post-diagnosis.

“As for as a cure, there’s nothing,” Cachero said. “It’s stable, yeah, but how long is that going to last?”

DIPG is typically found in children ages 5 to 10. It can also occur from ages 10 to 18. However, DIPG is almost never found in adults, making Cachero’s diagnosis at age 20 a medical phenomenon. 

Age of DIPG patients at diagnosis. Graph courtesy of The Diffuse Intrinsic Pontine Glioma Resource Network.

“Because of how rare it is for an older patient to have DIPG, I’m not eligible for many of the trials,” Cachero said. “There are almost no answers to any questions I ask doctors because there isn’t a big enough sample size.”

Due to the placement of the tumor, and the way it has molded to Cachero’s brain, doctors have deemed it impossible to remove his tumor surgically. 

“Most tumors are pressed up against the brain,” Cachero said. “Mine’s like a sponge, so it’s a part of my brain.”

Most clinical trials for DIPG have a cut-off age of 18. But last May, Cachero was accepted into a clinical trial with a cut-off age of 21, at the University of California San Francisco (UCSF). 

“I was lucky to be in the trial at UCSF because I was diagnosed when I was 20, a few days before I turned 21,” Cachero said. “If I was diagnosed anytime after turning 21, they wouldn’t have accepted me . . . so good timing.”

The treatment lasted two days and consisted of 10-hour procedures where a microcatheter was shot directly into the tumor in hopes of bypassing the brain barrier in a way that chemotherapy and radiation can not. Cachero repeated this trial in July, after waiting out the necessary interval of four to eight weeks.

After the trial, along with six weeks of chemotherapy and radiation, an MRI revealed the tumor had shrunk by 18%. 

The tumor has been stable ever since, and with no other treatment plans on the horizon, Cachero was eager to return to UP and continue his life outside of doctors’ offices and hospitals.

“After the July procedure, I just wanted to focus on school,” Cachero said. “I told my doctors thank you for all you’ve done for me, but I think I’m on my own now.”

Cachero made up all the credits needed for his degree in Operations and Technology Management that he lost while on medical leave, though it was not easy.

“I wanted to catch up on school and graduate with everybody else, so I took a semester’s load of classes over the summer,” Cachero said. “It was brutal doing the classes at the same time as the two procedures.”

Cachero said he is glad to have returned to UP and continue his schooling alongside his friends. While his condition will always affect him, Cachero said he refuses to allow DIPG to dictate how he is going to live his life.

He has lived in Villa Maria Hall for all four of his years at UP, and has been an active part of the Villa community.  

Friend of Cachero and fellow Villain Grant Sippel said he noticed Cachero as a powerful presence in Villa since their freshman year, and experienced the void Cachero left when on medical leave. 

“There was a piece of us that was missing; it was a hard semester without him,” Sippel said. “He has had the most positive outlook on this situation, it’s been inspiring to everybody.”

by Annika Gordon / The Beacon

Senior Haley Nabarrete, another close friend of Cachero, has been a constant support to him during the past 9 months and admires his attitude and strength.

“Isley has the mindset of — if this is gonna be a short period of time, then he would get the most out of it that he could,” Nabarrete said. “That it wasn’t gonna stop life from going forward, and from him moving forward.”

Despite the uncertainty in his condition, Cachero plans on finishing his schooling at UP, graduating with his friends and finding a job post-graduation with the hopes of living an ordinary life. 

“They always tell you ‘Be unique, be different,’” Cachero said. “But I just want to be normal.”

While in Portland, Cachero has monthly check ups at Oregon Health and Science University (OHSU). However, at this point doctors cannot do much to help except monitor possible tumor growth.

Since his diagnosis, Cachero tries to keep a positive mindset and withholds from placing a limit on his future. 

“There’s no point in not thinking about the future when there is definitely still a chance a future could be completely attainable,” Nabarrete said. “You don’t know how it’s going to turn out in the end.”

Since last January, Cachero said he has gained a unique perspective on life and has a greater appreciation for every experience he has. 

“Enjoy the little things. Enjoy every minute, every second you have with people,” Cachero said. “Because you will never know if it’s the last time.”

After hearing about Cachero’s tumor, UP siblings and good friends of Cachero, Ariana and Joey Gabriel created a GoFundMe page. Over the past few months his page has raised about $6,000 contributing to the costs of medical treatments.

“When I heard, my heart just sank,” said Ariana Gabriel, 2019 UP graduate. “If there is one person that nothing bad should ever happen to, it’s Isley.”

Cachero said he appreciates everybody’s thoughts and prayers for him, saying that this has been keeping him strong through this time of uncertainty. 

“These hurdles are going to come, it’s just a matter of how you respond to them,” Cachero said. “If I’m not strong, if I give up, what’s the point?”