EVERETT — Michael Alcayaga loved Cascade High School, and throughout his fight with leukemia the school’s students and staff showed their love for him.
Cascade’s colors are crimson and gray, but in Michael’s honor the school has lately sported orange.
The color of leukemia awareness, bright orange was painted on the sculpture of Cascade’s Bruin mascot. There have been orange signs in school windows, and in the halls kids have worn orange T-shirts. Michael’s initials — MA — were painted in orange on the Cascade baseball field.
Sixteen-year-old Michael, a Cascade sophomore, died Tuesday morning at Seattle Children’s Hospital.
Last August, he was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia, ALL, a type of blood cancer. His mother, Kristi Messenger, said he was treated for serious nosebleeds before the diagnosis was made.
Along with his mother, he is survived by his father Bill Alcayaga, and three 14-year-old sisters. Triplets Amanda, Brooke and Courtney Alcayaga were featured in The Herald as babies.
Messenger said her son had been hospitalized at Seattle Children’s since March 5. In December, doctors had hoped to do a bone-marrow transplant, she said. Despite many rounds of chemotherapy and medical trials, the remission needed for that procedure was elusive. “They could not get it to go away,” she said.
“U r shining down on us from heaven,” Wilson said Tuesday in a tweet after Michael died. The Seahawks quarterback said on Twitter that he and Macklemore were “touched by ur strength.”
“They were very genuine and sincere, and so good to us,” Messenger said.
She also praised Michael’s girlfriend, Emily Goodin, and his best friend Nik Soros. Both spent many hours at the hospital with Michael, joking and visiting, playing board games and cheering him up through long, difficult days. Messenger is grateful, too, to Seattle Children’s caring nurses and doctors, and the Cascade coaches, teachers and staff who visited him. Michael had hoped to attend Washington State University. He often wore Cougar colors, which the hospital staff — many of them UW Huskies — teased him about.
Throughout his illness, Michael battled the disease with a positive spirit. For as long as he could, he went to school and sporting events. His mother said he attended Cascade’s basketball games and practices, sometimes showing up straight from chemotherapy treatment.
Scheduled for short school days earlier this year, he worked in the office as an assistant to attendance secretary Rhonda Covert when he didn’t have class. “He was with me every day. He helped greet students, and at quiet times we would sit and talk. We became close through this whole journey,” said Covert, who was with Michael’s family at the hospital when he died.
“I don’t think I ever saw him without a smile,” said Ed Bowers, Cascade’s junior varsity baseball coach and an English teacher at the school. During his freshman year, Michael played baseball and basketball.
“On the field, he came every day and played as hard as he could. He had speed — you can’t coach speed. If he was there, my day got better right away,” Bowers said. “And he was a true fighter through this whole ordeal. He fought from beginning to end.”
Bowers said his team, and even opposing teams, showed up this season wearing orange in Michael’s honor. Cascade’s team took Michael’s baseball jersey, No. 16, to its games this season.
Social media has spread the word of Michael’s struggle beyond the Cascade. A big rock outside Everett High School — Cascade’s longtime rival — was painted orange last week in the teen’s memory. On a prayformichael Facebook page, students and staff from other schools posted pictures last week of people in orange T-shirts or with orange signs or wristbands.
A vigil last Tuesday night drew hundreds of teens to the South Everett Little League field where Michael used to play, his mother said. And at Cascade, Covert said Friday, students who posted signs and online messages in recent weeks saying “Pray for Michael” have a new message: “Live for Michael.”
“It’s become an amazing thing to see. One student from another high school tweeted that ‘Cancer is the real rival,’?” Covert said.
Next fall, Michael’s sisters will come to Cascade from Eisenhower Middle School. “We’re happy the triplets are coming,” Covert said. “Cascade has already embraced them.”
Julie Muhlstein: 425-339-3460; firstname.lastname@example.org.