A Father’s Day Story – A Story of Hope Young cancer survivor pursues Hollywood dream – San Benito News
By RAY QUIROGA
The father-son duo of Luther and Dustin Jones tend to talk mannerisms, but their message is loud and clear.
It may be a shudder here, a raised eyebrow there, or a distant glance into the distance as they recall bittersweet moments from years gone by, there is little need for real words when discussing the trials and tribulations they have endured as a family in ways few families will ever experience. But rest assured, this Father’s Day story is not one of sadness or heartbreak, but of triumph, determination, faith, hope and love.
Years ago, it was not uncommon to see Luther “play the part” of a general manager with his neatly cropped hair, khaki pants, casual shoes and a button-up shirt. Now retired for several years, when this reporter caught up with the Joneses on their way to South Padre Island, Luther’s home away from home in San Benito, Luther wore long hair under a baseball cap, donning his best “Island chic,” including a short one. pants and a long-sleeved polynylon fishnet shirt popularized by Columbia Sportswear, but Luther’s shirt proudly sported the logo of Costa Cleanups, a group dedicated to protecting the pristine beauty of the RGV and known for its impressive volunteer cleanups on the island. Luther often volunteers during those cleanups and is also a proud member of the island’s Jeep Club called Ohana. That means family in Hawaiian, appropriately enough, of course. But when Luther had to work for a living, he had to move from Corpus Christi to the Valley when his bosses at Continental Airlines asked him to oversee operations and opening from their terminal at Valley International Airport in Harlingen.
Luther located himself and his family in San Benito, became a fixture at San Benito’s Stookey Park Pony League competitions, and even volunteered for the competition. He enrolled his children in schools in San Benito. When all seemed well, the Joneses faced a family’s worst nightmare and found them staring mortality in the eye.
It just started when Dustin started his freshman year at school. “They (doctors) realized there was a tumor in his stomach that doubles in size every two hours, so it started to affect his other organs,” recalls Luther.
The doctors’ prognosis was not good. Dustin was immediately flown to Texas Children’s Hospital in Houston; it was cancer, Burkett lymphoma and type “B” leukemia, to be exact. The battle to save Dustin’s life was on.
Today, Dustin, who is 21 but could easily pass for a younger teen, blessed with boyish features, is as healthy as can be and undergoes annual checkups and blood tests to make sure the cancer hasn’t returned. But in 2005, when he was six and battling cancer, he withered to just 26 pounds. “He looked like a Martian,” said Luther.
Luther, with a trembling voice and tears in his eyes, recalls the day his family attended Christmas at the Queen of the Universe Catholic Church in San Benito and in the middle of the service, the pastor stopped when he saw Dustin present with his family. The priest approached the weakened boy, walked over to him and hoisted him onto his shoulders with ease, then walked back to the altar to address the congregation with Dustin in tow. Now facing the crowd, he sat at Dustin’s feet and said with enthusiastic authority, “This is a miracle from God!” Luther said that from then on all his worries were gone. “All my worries, everything, disappeared. I knew he would be fine (Dustin),’ Luther explained emotionally.
Dustin said those days were bittersweet for him, too young, he thinks, to fully understand the gravity of the situation. Instead, he says, the children in the hospital and the hospital staff became like extended family; especially the staff went out of their way to bring any semblance of comfort and normally a situation as abnormal as could be for the children and their families.
Rock stars, movie stars and famous athletes visited the children’s hospital to wish them well. Today, Dustin visits the hospital to do the same, carrying bags full of candy, a nod to the same practice he was known for during his time in care. Handing out candy earned him the nickname “Candy Man” among hospital staff and patients.
While you’d assume that the prospect of meeting the likes of Latino music superstar Ricky Martin may seem like the pinnacle for the uninitiated, parents and even children going through what the Joneses went through look to Dustin and understand that they are speaking to a survivor and that’s worth more to them than a thousand Latin heartthrobs (with all due respect to Mr. Martin, of course) and for one simple reason, Dustin offers these parents hope, Luther explained. “This is a story of hope,” Luther continued, a lump in his throat and a tear in his eye as he gestured to his son sitting next to him.
By May 2006, Dustin’s cancer had gone into remission.
Now, at this point in the story, readers can assume that the Joneses, including Dustin’s four siblings, would have sealed Dustin in bubble wrap for his own protection, placed him gently in a padded room, closed the door and the key away. After all, they were given a second chance with their son and brother.
Instead, when Dustin was only 14 years old, they did the unexpected: they let him go. Yes, when he was 14, Dustin, already determined to be an actor at an even younger age, jumped on a plane bound for Hollywood and has never looked back, all with the blessing of his family. “He did it all himself,” Luther explained proudly.
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