Pflugerville community unites behind Hendrickson High teen’s cancer fight


Nicholas “Niko” Medellin, a Hendrickson High School sophomore, was diagnosed April 17 with glioblastoma multiforme. (Courtesy Belinda Medellin)

PFLUGERVILLE, Texas (KXAN) — Around Thanksgiving, Hendrickson High School sophomore Nicholas “Niko” Medellin started experiencing migraine headaches. On April 17, after five spinal taps, five brain MRIs and a brain biopsy, he was diagnosed with glioblastoma multiforme — an aggressive brain cancer.

Niko’s diagnosis came just over six years after his father had died of lung cancer. To go through a family cancer diagnosis once was unimaginable, Belinda said; twice is unfathomable.

“It was just devastating,” said Belinda Medellin, Niko’s mother. “It just didn’t seem possible.”

A community rallying together

Belinda’s neighbor, Sidra Carzola, launched a GoFundMe page to support Niko’s family on May 3. On May 5, nearly $10,000 had been raised by more than 130 donors.

An A+ student, exceptional soccer player, altar server and community volunteer, Belinda said Niko has always been a social butterfly with deep roots in the Pflugerville community. His generous spirit and tenacious attitude has paid forward in dividends, she said.

Elementary, middle and high school teachers have reached out in droves to provide hot meals, visits and a sense of comfort to Niko as he undergoes a six week radiation treatment cycle in Georgetown. He completed his first week of treatments May 4.

“He’s just such an amazing kid,” Belinda said. “Lovable and kind is how I’d describe him.”

Monitoring symptoms

May is recognized as Brain Tumor Awareness Month to help raise national attention surrounding brain tumor research and treatment, including glioblastoma.

The annual designation helps to improve research and public understanding surrounding these kinds of cancers, said Dr. John Kuo, surgical director of the Mulva Clinic for the Neurosciences and a neuro-oncologist at UT Health Austin’s Livestrong Cancer Institutes. Kuo is also chair and professor of neurosurgery at Dell Medical School at UT Austin.

Stronger public awareness helps people have a better understanding of what symptoms to monitor and how to support friends and loved ones receiving treatment, he said.

Symptoms of glioblastoma can vary, which is why it is important to monitor symptoms that have a sudden onset or a slow progression over time, Kuo said. Some cases are first reported from headaches or vision impairments, he said, but those can be connected to a variety of other diagnoses.

It’s important to visit a primary care physician for changing symptoms prior to visiting an oncologist, Kuo said. With the rarity of brain tumors, he added it is crucial patients pay close attention to their health and visit a doctor for a thorough and accurate diagnosis.

A fighter’s spirit

On May 7, Belinda said neighbors will host a community block party and barbecue, dubbed Niko’s Night. The contributions raised through the GoFundMe and similar initiatives will help cover travel expenses, family meals and assist with Belinda’s time off work to attend Niko’s near-daily treatments.

Niko returned to in-person learning this spring, following approved guidance by his cancer treatment specialists. First, he returned to school in wheelchair, Belinda said. Next, a walker.

Now, he walks in each day sans wheelchair or walker. Since his diagnosis in mid-April, Niko has adopted the trademark motto, “attitude is 80% of the fight.”

The phrase encapsulates so much of the fighter behind it, she said.

“I think faith is everything that is getting us through this right now,” she said. “He’s such a fighter, so much stronger than I am.”

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