Quentin “Squish” Rios, center, got a superhero welcome last week at O’Hara Park Middle School where Squish’s brother KC attends 8th grade. The school kicked off a fundraiser to raise money for Squish, who is battling cancer, through Pennies for Patients, a campaign for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society.

Is he faster than a speeding bullet? Is he able to leap tall buildings in a single bound? Maybe not, but this 3-year-old is fighting a tough battle with cancer that ranks him with the likes of superheroes.  Meet Quentin “Squish” Rios, the bravest boy in town.

Squish, his family and a team of doctors and specialists are waging a battle against juvenile pilocytic astrocytoma (JPA), which has invaded his body. Despite the pain and hardships he endures, Squish faces each day with a courageous smile.

It is this courage that has made the young boy a hero to others, including students at O’Hara Park Middle School in Oakley, where Squish’s brother KC attends 8th grade. The school kicked off a fundraiser on Jan. 31 to raise money for Squish through Pennies for Patients, a campaign for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society, and honored him as their favorite hero during the school’s superhero spirit day. Squish made a hero’s appearance during lunch where students greeted him with cheers as they pledged to Squish Out Cancer.

The students are collecting pennies and spare change through Feb. 21.  Eighty percent of the funds will benefit Squish’s family and twenty percent will go to the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society.

O’Hara Park Middle School’s leadership program has participated in Pennies for Patients for several years.  When Heather Yurkovich, KC’s language arts and leadership teacher, found out about Squish, she wanted to do everything she could to help the Rios family.

“One of the key components to leadership is service and youth empowerment,” said Yurkovich. “This is such a powerful way for the students to experience real leadership and genuinely serve someone in our own community.”

Yurkovich contacted Pennies for Patients, who generously agreed to allow the school to donate 80 percent of the proceeds to the Rios family, which is facing a major financial burden as medical bills pile up.

Squish’s journey began eight months ago when his parents Jason and Mary noticed he was sitting close to the TV and suspected he might need glasses.

“I thought we would just get glasses and be on our way,” said Mary.

A few months later, an MRI revealed that Squish had a large tumor, which rested on both of his optic nerves, his pituitary gland and his hypothalamus.  Three smaller tumors were found at the base of his brain.

“We were told it’s in the absolute worst part of the body to treat,” said Mary.  “My heart just sank.”

The Rios family was given another blow when they found out the tumor was inoperable because it was interwoven with portions of his brain. Squish’s initial treatment is 60 weeks of chemo, and the goal is to stop the tumor from growing and possibly shrink it. 

The brain tumor, the size of a golf ball has been pressing on Squish’s optic nerves, leaving him legally blind.  The family is amazed that the toddler still has full mobility.  He runs around, plays baseball and loves playing with his siblings.

“He is my hero,” Mary said. “He is just unreal.”

Squish has already endured 10 weeks of chemo treatments, which he receives in Oakland. The treatments leave him with jaw and leg pain that can’t be relieved because pain relievers can’t be given to chemo patients as it could mask symptoms of an infection.  The chemo also makes him nauseated for several days following the treatment. 

Taking a toddler to get chemo isn’t easy when you have a five-month baby, a daughter in elementary school and another in middle school. But through it all, the Rios family has been surrounded by family and friends whose outpouring support has overwhelmed the family.

“I didn’t know how I could ever express my gratitude,” Mary said.  “I can’t do this on my own. It’s going to take a village to help Squish,” she says. “We feel so blessed to have this village around us.”

To follow Squish’s journey or to make a donation to the Rios family, visit Squish Out Cancer at www.gofundme.com/57iy20. Residents may also drop off donations, including loose change, at O’Hara Middle School, 1100 O’Hara Ave. in Oakley.