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'Star Wars' characters cheer up ill child

8-year-old battling cancer
By: Anne Stokes Press Tribune Correspondent
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Tristan Brusig’s love of all things “Star Wars” is in his genes. His favorite movie is “The Empire Strikes Back.” And his favorite characters?

“The Storm Troopers, even though they’re the bad guys,” he admits. “They look cool.”

His parents, Paula and Steve Brusig of Lincoln, are both members of Vader’s First 501st Legion, an international organization made up of film fans and costume enthusiasts who wear their passion with pride. But as of late, the Brusigs haven’t been able to participate in many “Star Wars” themed events.

“We haven’t done any in the past couple of years,” Paula Brusig said. “Obviously, we’ve had other things on our minds.”

Tristan was diagnosed in 2011 with synovial sarcoma, a rare soft-tissue cancer. The 8-year-old has been in and out of hospitals undergoing multiple procedures, including radiation therapy and chemotherapy since July. Tristan was supposed start his seventh and final round of chemotherapy last week, but then the family learned there would be one more set to endure in December. 

Despite the bad news, Tristan had a few surprise guests that made his day on Tuesday. Members of the 501st Legion’s Central California Garrison came to Kaiser Permanente Roseville’s pediatric wards, bringing much-needed fun to young patients and their families.

The charitable organization is known for their community events and fundraising, works with several other nonprofit groups, including Autism Speaks, American Cancer Society, Boys and Girls Clubs of America, Make a Wish Foundation and March of Dimes. 

“Having done events and visits like this, to be on the receiving end is kind of bittersweet, but it’s a wonderful thing for our son because he hasn’t had that many happy things happen during hospital stays,” Paula Brusig said. “There are lots of families that are going through this kind of thing and their kids are in the hospital for even longer than ours. So it’s just wonderful for them to have that to look forward to and some little treats like that here and there, just to brighten up their lives.”

That’s what makes it all worthwhile for volunteer Scott Simpson, who came all the way from Hillmar to don his X-Wing pilot costume.

“Just to walk in and see the kids light up, it makes your heart beat faster and you can’t help but have a smile on your face,” Simpson said. “Even underneath the mask, you can’t help that smile.”

Traci Aoki-Tam, child life specialist with Kaiser Permanente, attests to the positive impact such visits have on patients, especially the young ones.

“We have some kids here today that have been in and out a lot, so to have something different and break up the monotony of the hospital is nice,” she said. “They’ve been coming in and out for treatment, so to have something fun and exciting while you’re here in the hospital is always a nice thing.”

According to Paula Brusig, it means even more than that: “It doesn’t just break up the monotony. It’s something special. It helps him feel special and that really is gratifying." When asked how the visit made him feel, Tristan replied with one word — “awesome."