Federico Hernandez does not want your sympathy. He does not want your pity. He simply wants to be treated like everyone else.
“He does not want to be associated with having a visual impairment,” Temple City High teacher Grant Rowe said. “Even though it’s obvious he does. He walks in with a white cane and he’s reading brail. A lot of teachers have said to me, he’s as intelligent or more intelligent than his sighted peers.”
Federico has been blind as long as he can remember. He was diagnosed with retinoblastoma, a rare form of eye cancer that nearly cost him his life.
“What I remember my parents saying is the cancer couldn’t really be taken care of,” Federico said. “They gave me chemo. But it seemed like we were feeding it. Like it fell asleep and came back stronger. And eventually, it was like a matter of life or death. If they kept my eyes on me, I would have died.”
Federico underwent enucleation, a surgical procedure that removes the entire eye. It left Federico without his vision, but grateful to be alive.
“You learn to live with darkness that you live with every day,” Federico said. “You just have to live your life as normal as you can.”
But any sense of normalcy Federico had grown accustomed to quickly changed the summer before his freshman year of high school.
“I started to feel a pain in my leg and I thought it was because I was exercising,” Federico said. “Maybe I pulled a muscle. Maybe I hurt something else. And eventually, it grew up to the point where I couldn’t walk anymore. I couldn’t stand up anymore.”
Federico had osteosarcoma, a bone cancer often linked to retinoblastoma. This meant more chemotherapy and more time in hospitals.
“The pain that you felt during these cancers, it hardens you up,” Federico said. “You don’t feel anything. Sometimes that can get into your emotions. I just wanted to go back to my normal life.”
Federico enrolled at Temple City High in the spring of 2016 after missing what would have been his freshman year of high school.
“He has to work so much harder to learn to study, to understand,” Longden Elementary co-principal and former Temple City High assistant principal Aaron Chang said. “And then he pushes teachers and myself to be better educators. So I think he makes everybody around him better professionally and personally.”
Chang admits interacting with students like Federico makes his role as an educator well worth it.
“That’s my favorite part of the job is getting to know these students, their stories,” Chang said. “What makes them unique. What makes them resilient. What gives them their personality. That’s what inspires me.”
No one can question the grit of Federico Hernandez. A two-time cancer survivor, Federico is determined to not be seen as someone with a disability, but as someone who is an equal.
“He’s been through quite a bit as a person,” Chang said. “He’s gone through a lot of physical hardships and emotional hardships. And it inspires me because he bounces right back up literally and figuratively. And I hope to be like him when I grow up.”