Educator and Motivator Jaime Escalante Dies of Bladder Cancer

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Jaime Escalante, the math teacher who transformed a tough East Los Angeles high school and inspired the 1988 movie “Stand and Deliver”, has died at the age of 79 from bladder cancer. Escalante died in Reno, Nevada where he was undergoing treatment.

Escalante immigrated to the United States from Bolivia. He had to study English at night for years to get his California teaching credentials. When he first came to LA’s Garfield High he was discouraged by the “culture of low expectations, gang activity, and administrative apathy”, according to a family friend. However, gradually he overhauled the school’s math curriculum and motivated struggling students to excel at advanced math and science.

Bladder cancer, the sixth most common type of cancer in the United States, has almost 71,000 new cases diagnosed each year resulting in over 14,000 deaths.

Bladder cancer is a cancerous tumor that occurs in the lining of the bladder, the organ that stores urine. Symptoms include blood in the urine and painful, frequent or urgent urination. Other signs can include abdominal pain, anemia, bone pain or tenderness, lethargy and fatigue, and weight loss.

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Treatment for the disease depends upon the stage of the tumor and the severity of the symptoms. For early stages, surgery to remove the tumor and chemotherapy or immunotherapy directly to the bladder is often used. For later stages, partial or complete removal of the bladder may be necessary followed by chemotherapy and radiation.

As with most cancers, the exact cause of bladder cancer is often unknown. Smoking increases the risk of bladder cancer nearly fivefold. Chemical exposure to carcinogens such as arylamines are thought to cause about one in four cases of bladder cancer. A long-term bladder infection or irritation may lead to the development of squamous cell bladder cancer.

Those with stage 0 or 1 cancers often have a good outlook and response to treatment, however the risk of cancer returning is high. Those with stage III tumors are cured less than 50% of the time, and those with stage IV bladder cancer are rarely cured and considered terminal.

Escalante left Garfield High in 1991, but his influence remains with both the students he taught and the cast of the movie he inspired. Edward James Olmos, who played Escalante, said “Jaime exposed one of the most dangerous myths of our time – that inner city students can’t be expected to perform at the highest levels. Because of him, that destructive idea has been shattered forever.” The cast of “Stand and Deliver” helped Escalante pay for his alternative cancer treatments.

Elsa Bolado, one of Escalante’s former pupil, now 45 and an elementary school teacher, remembers the way he built her confidence with long hours of solving problems. She said, “To this day, I still think of the example he set – the study skills, how not to give up. I revert back to that every time things get tough.”

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