Anthony Troncoso loved soccer. He started playing the sport as a child and, years later, coached his sister Valentina’s youth team. Anthony is of Chilean descent and he shared a love of soccer with many Chilean friends and family. When he was diagnosed with cancer at the age of 21, the game continued to play prominently in his life.
FATHER AND SON: Anthony Troncoso with Domenik, who is now four years old.
He talked about Manchester United with a volunteer at Edmonton’s Cross Cancer Institute. He received a day pass to see his sister Vanesa’s first indoor soccer game of the season, and played the game with his young son, Domenik. Anthony spent his last days in a hospital room at the Cross that looked on a small sports field where people played soccer.
And so it was fitting for Anthony’s friends and family to gather on a soccer field this August, 10 months after he died, to honour Anthony’s 25 years of life through the sport he loved so much. The first annual Anthony David Troncoso soccer tournament raised over $6,000 for the Alberta Cancer Foundation, benefitting patient care at the Cross Cancer Institute.
“It was amazing,” says Darlene Rojas, Anthony’s mother, of the tournament. Anthony’s close family friend Hernan Salas organized the tournament with three friends, Salvi Gonzalez, Warren Silva and Yuri Munoz. “There was a beautiful, loving spirit throughout the whole thing,” Rojas says. “It was heart-warming: the number of people who came out and gave, and to know that the money is going to do some good for someone else who is suffering.”
Anthony’s journey with cancer started when he was 21. “He was just a regular guy, always healthy, played soccer and loved sports,” Rojas says. “He had a great job as a lead hand, had met the girl of his dreams and was planning a wedding. They just bought a condo and then on Christmas Eve, found out they were expecting.”
Life was falling into place. Meanwhile, a minor workplace accident was causing Anthony some discomfort, but no one thought much of it and Rojas figured she was worrying needlessly, as any mother might. Anthony had been carrying a pipe that slipped and he caught some of the weight with his left thigh. When he was still hobbling around nearly a month later, he finally went to see a doctor.
The doctor wanted a closer look and booked Anthony an MRI. Anthony eventually found out the slipping pipe was just coincidental – he had sarcoma at the site. “They told us straight out, ‘You have a tumour attached to the bone, it will require surgery,’ ” Rojas says. By March, a biopsy showed the tumour was cancerous and chemotherapy began. In early August, Anthony successfully underwent major surgery, which placed a donor bone in his thigh, and later that month, his son Domenik was born.
After five more months of more chemotherapy, then 10 months of clear followup appointments, tests found cancerous spots on Anthony’s lungs, pelvis and left knee. Doctors confirmed, says Rojas, that the disease had spread and that he had 12 to 18 months, maybe two years, left to live.
But Anthony, 23, continued to be his optimistic, smiling self. “He was very strong of mind and didn’t allow us to dwell on negatives,” Rojas says. “His biggest fear was leaving his son too soon.” Anthony dreamed of walking his son into the first day of school.
Under the stresses of treatment, Anthony’s relationship with his son’s mother ended. Anthony still saw Domenik every weekend and he would plan his chemo early in the week, in order to have energy for his son’s weekend stays.
When Anthony had a seizure months later, doctors found a tumour on the left side of his brain. A second seziure resulted in paralysis on Anthony’s right side. They removed the tumour to give Anthony a better quality of life. “To see him walking towards me down the hall with a walker after surgery was beautiful,” Rojas says.
But his health continued to deteriorate and one of his lungs collapsed. Despite three more surgeries and a lot of discomfort, Anthony insisted his family take a vacation to B.C., so that he could be the best man in his uncle’s wedding. Shortly after the Thanksgiving trip, Anthony had trouble lifting himself up and he was soon admitted to the Cross Cancer Institute. “They’re a different set of people at the Cross,” Rojas says. “He just loved that place. He made friends and they all knew him. It was perfect. ‘It’s five stars,’ he would say all the time.”
Anthony’s resident doctor Steve Follett had to tell Anthony, in the presence of his parents, that Anthony would not be able to return home.
But his sister had her first indoor soccer game of the season the following week – Anthony was adamant he would watch. He got a day pass and did just that. In the following days, he also received visits from players and coaches from the Edmonton Eskimos and Oilers. Members of the Eskimos visited Anthony before game day, and then returned unexpectedly the next day, bringing him a signed game football.
On Friday, October 29, 2010, Anthony died.
Rojas is recalling Anthony’s story near the end of October, nearly a year since his death. “I can’t say it’s easier,” she says, looking at the picture she’s brought of Anthony. In the photograph taken two summers ago, Anthony is smiling with Domenik. That smile is Anthony through and through, says Rojas; during his sickness, he stayed upbeat.
Domenik is now four years old. “He is Anthony in a nutshell. He’s fun-loving and beautiful and respectful and loves soccer,” Rojas says. Anthony’s sisters, Vanesa and Valentina, are now coaching Domenik’s indoor U6 soccer team.
Rojas isn’t certain how she’ll mark the first anniversary of Anthony’s death. Domenik has a soccer game that morning and then the family will likely go visit Anthony’s gravesite. “Domenik will let out a balloon if he wants, then maybe friends and family will come over for a potluck. We’ll just be together,” she says.
It’s that togetherness that helps them grieve, and togetherness is something that Hernan Salas hopes to foster at the end of every July, with the Anthony David Troncoso soccer tournament. Salas says the Chilean community in the city is very close and Anthony’s death affected many. “I just wanted to honour him and our time growing up,” Salas says of starting the tournament. “And it’s something for his son to remember him by.”
In the coming years, the tournament will be held near Anthony’s birthday, at the end of July. “Instead of everyone being upset and crying on his birthday, we can celebrate his life,” Salas says. “He loved soccer, so what better way to celebrate him than to have a little tournament with the sport he loved the most.”