He's only 11 and he has lost nearly 25 pounds from his already slender frame, as well as most of his hair, since he first felt the cancer attacking his spine. But ask his father, a sturdy El Salvadorian construction worker, and he'll say young Erick is the strongest member of the Rivas household.
"It's really hard for me and his mom because he's so strong. Sometimes I want to cry, but when I see him, I feel strong," Belseth Rivas said in his thick accent. "When they told him he's going to lose his hair or eyebrows, he's like, 'I don't care, they will grow back.' That was funny and made me feel strong."
Erick had been in pain for most of the past year while receiving multiple misdiagnoses from his pediatrician, who at one point told his parents the problem was in the boy's head. A month ago, the doctor conceded there might be a more serious problem and the Rivases rushed Erick, the oldest of their two sons, to the Lucille Packard Children's Hospital in Stanford. Following a triple biopsy and tests, doctors determined the boy's spine and pelvis were riddled with Stage IV Hodgkin's lymphoma, a strain of cancer that is treatable with chemotherapy and radiation.
The cloud of the diagnosis and the years-long recovery that lies ahead hangs heavy over the family. But the Rivases have found some rays of light in the help they have received from the community. And some have found light in giving that help.
Carli Stevens has organized a fundraiser for the Rivas family at the Seabright Brewery at 4 p.m. Sunday. Stevens said she felt moved to act after seeing a Dec.12 Sentinel article about Erick's fight with cancer. Erick reminded her of her own son Alex Stevens, who died from liver disease on Dec. 3 at the age of 43.
"As part of a celebration of Alex's life, our family is planning to help gather funds from our friends and the soccer community in Santa Cruz to contribute to the efforts already ongoing," Stevens wrote in an email. "We see it as a concrete way to help here in Santa Cruz and Alex, who was born and raised here, would want it too."
Both Santa Cruz natives shared an unrelenting love for soccer. Both received misdiagnoses. And both have shown strength in their weakest times.
Alex Stevens, a 1982 Harbor High graduate, went to the doctor in Medford, Ore., where he ran one of his two soccer shops, in late November complaining of stomach pains. He was immediately told he had liver disease, but his doctor assured him he would be fine. When that doctor went on vacation, another doctor filled in and alerted Stevens that he only had weeks to live.
Even then, Stevens stayed stoic.
"Alex knew he was in bad shape, I think, even when he was at home," Carli Stevens said in a phone interview. "He dealt with that really well."
He memorized the names of all his doctors and made plans to thank them for their care with banana bread -- his mother's recipe. He also gathered around friends and spent his final days laughing and sharing food with them at his home.
Carli Stevens hopes many of Alex's friends here in Santa Cruz -- he was captain of the Pirates' soccer team and started up a soccer store on Portola Plaza in 1984 -- will rally around Erick Rivas.
They don't have to go as far as some of the boys on the U12 team of Santa Cruz's FC Revolution soccer club, which Belseth Rivas co-founded as an outlet for underprivileged kids. To Belseth's astonishment, several of the boys supported their sick teammate by shaving their heads to match him.
That's a big commitment, but Belseth said even the smallest gesture hasn't gone unappreciated.
"It's been really hard for us," said Belseth, whose wife, Veronica, gave up her job as a house cleaner months ago to help take care of Erick. "A lot of people are helping and praying for us. I'm very glad. I don't have the word to tell them thank you."
The only way he can think of to thank people for their generosity is to make sure his son becomes someone who will return the favor.
"Sometimes I'm really brutal with him," Belseth said. "I tell him, if you survive, the only way to tell everybody thank you is to be a good citizen and help everybody when they need it."
If You Go
Alex Stevens Celebration of Life
When: 4 p.m. Sunday
Where: Seabright Brewery
What: Chance for those who knew Harbor High graduate and former mid-county soccer shop owner Alex Stevens