Kindergarten Students Rally Around Classmate With Terminal Brain Cancer

By Jamie Leary

WESTMINSTER, Colo. (CBS4)– Students and staff at the Westminster Academy for International Studies are coming together after learning a popular student is living with terminal cancer.

On Tuesday, elementary and middle school students spent time writing letters to their friend, 5-year-old Leonel Castenda or “Leo” for short.

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“Everyone kind of bands together, we’re a small school,” said Tory Pacifico, Leo’s kindergarten teacher.

Tory Pacifico (credit: CBS)

At just 2-years-old, Leo began having headaches and doctors discovered a brain tumor. He was diagnosed with a type of cancer called Ependymoma. Despite surgery and radiation, Leo’s tumor multiplied and returned more aggressive.

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“The doctors told me that he has a short life. They didn’t know how long… maybe a couple months.” Leo’s mother, Frida Casteneda cried.

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Leo is too exhausted to return to school and is now in hospice care. He isn’t as social he once was but perks up if you ask him about school.

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“Who are some of the other kids you get along with really well?” CBS4’s Jamie Leary asked Leo. After some serious thought, Leo pointed to a picture and shouted “Josè!”

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Leo’s classmates miss him just as much as he misses them. A handful of kindergarteners volunteered to read what they wrote in their letters to him;

“I miss you, you are my best friend,” read Romi.

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“You make me smile, feel better,” read Violet.

Leo’s teachers frequently visit him at home and read to him. They plan to deliver the student’s letters during their visit Friday afternoon.

Westminster Academy for International Studies (credit: CBS)

His mother says she wishes she could keep him forever and watch him grow old.

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“But I know I can’t,” she said while looking at Leo. “He’s really, really smart. He’s lovely. He’s my everything.”

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The school has set up a GoFundMe page for Leo and his family who face mounting medical expenses. Leo’s mother says anything helps.

Westminster Academy for International Studies (credit: CBS)

Jamie Leary joined the CBS4 team in 2015 and currently works as a reporter for CBS4 News at 5 p.m. and 6 p.m. She couldn’t imagine a better place to live and work and will stop at nothing to find the next great story. Jamie loves learning about and hearing from her fellow community members, so connect with her on Facebook or Twitter @JamieALeary.

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