Family, friends rally for local man

By Martin Ricard, STAFF WRITER
The Daily Review
November 18, 2007

SAN LEANDRO — Lying in a hospital bed, Craig Alaniz rested with his eyes closed and his body still while his mother, sister and girlfriend gathered around, all eyes intently focused on him.

A few moments went by, then Alaniz awoke, slightly dazed, and opened his mouth but didn’t say anything. His throat was dry and he wanted something to quench his thirst.

His sister, Tina Marie, hurried out of the room and quickly returned with a cup of water, gently pressing it against Alaniz’s lips so that he could swallow.

“Slowly, bro, slowly,” she said as he gulped. Then,much to everyone’s amazement, Alaniz broke a smile as if that was the best water he had ever tasted.

It was a slow sign of progress, but compared to what he has been going through for three months, it was a moment of bliss. In August, Alaniz, 23, of San Leandro was diagnosed with a rare brain tumor that has affected most of his motor functions and left him hospitalized.

The sudden discovery of the tumor was a blow to his once-active lifestyle. But throughout the tribulation, he has never had to go through a day alone.

That’s because his family and a dedicatedgroup of friends, with whom he graduated from San Leandro High School, have all been by his side, rooting him on while he fights for his life.

Now the group is holding a pasta feed on Saturday to raise money for Alaniz so that, when he is released, he can spend the next couple of weeks at home before beginning chemotherapy.

“Craig, he’s been a part of us, he’s always just been a great person,” said longtime friend Jessica Cutter. “And if any of us were ever in the same situation, I know he would be doing the same thing.”

The morning after

Alaniz first noticed something was wrong in late summer, after he was having problems with his eyesight and experiencing a lot of headaches.

One day he started feeling dizzy and checked himself into San Leandro Hospital, where he underwent a CT scan. The results weren’t good: Doctors had found a tumor growing on his brain stem, which devastated him.

“I just woke up one morning and I was in the hospital,” Alaniz says now, speaking barely above a whisper. “They told me I had a tumor, and I was like, ‘Whoa!'”

For the next few months, his condition worsened.

He was transferred to Stanford Hospital for further treatment. And that’s when he found out that he had germinoma, a tumor affecting the central nervous system.

He is now temporarily at Kindred Hospital in San Leandro, waiting to be transported back to Stanford. Doctors have given Alaniz a 40 percent chance of surviving the tumor.

Team Craig

But his friends, who have banded together and been by his side ever since he was first hospitalized, have never given up hope.

Every day for the past three months, they have gathered by his hospital bed or down in the lobby to show their support.

They have even started a MySpace blog called Team Craig in honor of his love of sports — his favorite is baseball — to keep other friends posted on his progress. The page now has more than 150 members, most of whom were friends with Alaniz in high school and some who had just heard about his story.

“Everybody wanted to know about him,” said Chris Crow, 23, of San Leandro, who has known Alaniz since the second grade. “And it’s hard to make that same phone call over and over again.”

In high school, friends remember Alaniz as a goodhearted person who was very athletic and always loved being the center of attention. He loved taking risks — he is an avid motorcyclist — and has never shied away from a good rivalry, friends said.

“He was hella competitive,” said friend David Jagoda, 24, of San Leandro. “Whether it was video games, sports, even writing, it was one big competition after another.”

Alaniz was working at an AT&T store in Oakland before being diagnosed with the tumor, and even there he was very competitive, Jagoda said. Alaniz had been the leading salesman for several months.

Now, he is just struggling to cope.

He has lost all of his hair. Several shunts have been placed in his skull to drain fluid from his brain. He is able to hold a conversation at times, but it often makes him feel uncomfortable. Still, friends say, he just squints his eyes, scrunches his forehead and deals with it.

But just like when he was pitching for the San Leandro High baseball team in the playoffs, he remains determined to make it through.

And even though he can’t move much, he can still feel his friends’ support.

“I love it very much,” he said of their efforts. “I think it’s very cool.”

They are trying to raise at least $5,000 to $10,000 with their pasta feed on Saturday to pay for a fulltime nurse to care for Alaniz when he gets released.

His insurance will cover medical equipment, but not the nurse.

A sign of hope

On Thursday, about six of Alaniz’s friends showed up at Kindred Hospital to show their support for their longtime comrade, while his mother Lou, his sister and his girlfriend Jazmin Fausto went up to comfort him at his bedside.

In the lobby, the friends sat solemnly and chatted with one another, reminiscing about their buddy Craig and encouraging one another to keep hope alive.

An hour went by and, one by one, they started to file out of the hospital.

But before they took off, they all signed a brand-new baseball with their well-wishes — a sign of their love, a sign of his hope.

“We just want him to be happy where he’s at,” said Joclynn Alioto, 23, of San Leandro. “And if he gets better, it just shows there is a chance.”

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