Feb 15th, 2018, 01:10 PM

Accents—Alfio Lococo

By Elizabeth Nguyen Son
Image Credit: Alfio Lococo
"I had to look death in the eye as an infant, put on the gloves, go twelve rounds, and win."

Despite only being in his second semester at the American University of Paris, Alfio Lococo, more commonly known as Fio by his peers, is already heavily involved in the Student Government Association (SGA). He is another familiar face around campus whose story goes much deeper than most of us could ever imagine. Lococo was diagnosed with rhabdomyosarcoma as a toddler while he and his mother, June, accompanied his father, Edmond, on a business trip.

Fio moved to AUP in search of something new, somewhere he could build a new life without having to prescribe to the labels that his ethnicity forced upon him. Now eighteen years old, Lococo explains, "It is always nicer to create a new identity than to live in between two old ones." He is a citizen of the United States of America, born to a father from upstate New York and a mother from Beijing, China. With family roots in Shan Dong, China, Lococo was born in Beijing before his and his parents' lives were abruptly altered by his diagnosis. Under a mere twenty-four hours after hearing news no parents should have to hear, the Lococo family had packed their belongings and left for Boston for Fio's treatment.

Image Credit: Alfio Lococo

"Essentially, a sarcoma is a malignant soft tissue tumor, meaning that it usually grows very quickly and spreads through the body. I was diagnosed with rhabdomyosarcoma in my bladder. Sarcoma tumors are usually malignant but, I got lucky and my tumor was benign, meaning it kind of just sits where it is instead of spreading. That’s one of the reasons that it was so easy to cure."

"I had barely started talking when I was diagnosed, so I had no idea what was going on. I just thought I was getting rushed around a lot. I’m not entirely sure, but I think I was in Hong Kong when I was diagnosed. The beginning stages were a lot of back and forth. Doctors originally just thought I had a UTI, and put me on antibiotics, but they realized they weren't working after a while. We were traveling a lot at the time, so I don’t remember exactly where we were when it was finally determined that I had cancer, but it was probably either China or Hong Kong. I do know for sure that I was diagnosed at around 2 years old though. Both of my parents were definitely with me, and I think my Chinese grandmother may have been there as well."

Image Credit: Alfio Lococo

"I had to live at the hospital for quite a while, and even after we moved into an apartment in Boston, I was spending a lot of my time in the hospital, so a lot of my entertainment and free time was just spent with whatever the hospital had available in the pediatric wing. Which, in all fairness, was a fair amount. They had a GameCube so I was all set. The first step of treatment was just surgically removing the tumor, which was then followed by around a year of proton therapy. Given my age, it didn’t really disrupt anything because I was too young to have been doing anything, so I think it had a much more profound impact on my parents in that they were spending a lot of time at the hospital. My mom quit work to take care of me, and my dad had to schedule his work around the time that he was spending with me in the hospital. I imagine my being in remission must have been a major relief to all my family members. Knowing current and little me, I was probably just basking in all the attention I was getting after finishing treatment.

"Nobody that I was directly related to has had cancer before, but when I was in first or second grade, one of my classmates lost her mother to breast cancer. She lived down the street from me, and it was a really surreal experience for me at that age. The reason I remember it so vividly is because our school had a parents' day activity or something of the sort, and this girl didn’t have anyone with her because her father had taken on extra shifts at work after his wife’s passing, so my mom spent the day with her while my dad stayed with me. I think it hit a bit too close to home for my mother, and she wanted to help any way she could, having gone through my cancer treatment."

Fio undergoing proton therapy. Image Credit: Alfio Lococo

"The cliché of 'carpe diem' definitely applies when I think about what I took away from this experience. I think having it happen so young really gave me an appreciation for everything that has come. I think the idea that a whole team of doctors worked together to make the rest of my life stay a possibility really gives me motivation when I hit the lows. Kind of like, I had to look death in the eye as an infant, put on the gloves, go twelve rounds, and win. Having baby-Fio be such a badass kinda just puts everything else in perspective for 'adult' - if we can even call him that - Fio. In addition, I think it really has given me an incredible appreciation for my parents. Having been raised in a half-Chinese home environment, I’ve always believed that children are forever indebted to their parents for having raised them, but my parents going through all that they did for me… That’s a whole different level, and I think understanding that has made me much more sympathetic and willing to help others, because everyone needs somebody sometime, why not pay it forward….

"The only downside to having cancer was that everything else had to be positive. Having had this one negative thing meant that I had to counterbalance it and make everything else positive. I pushed aside other problems because I felt like I had to be grateful for having a second chance at life. It marginalizes everything that happens in life. It makes everything seem so small. While it’s good because you have a greater perspective, it also has the flip side of not giving other personal problems the attention they deserve."

Image Credit: Alfio Lococo

"I just wish I could remember it better. I think cancer is one of those things that plays a pivotal role in the lives of those who go through it, and it has played a role in mine, but I think its role has stemmed much more from how it affected those around me rather than how it affected me as an individual. I wish that I could tell the baby me to comfort my parents once in a while. Tell him to thank them for all that they are doing. Tell him to appreciate all that this massive team of people is doing for him. Most of all, tell him that it’s probably best that he’s getting the devastating lows out of the way early, because that way, it only goes up from there."