De Leon shines bright while posing with his saxophone.

De Leon shines bright while posing with his saxophone. Photo Courtesy of Brandon Fletcher and Shelby Gordon

Former music major and Spirit of San Antonio (SOSA) drum major Bobby Joe De Leon Jr.’s life changed forever in August 2018 when he was diagnosed with primary cardiac cancer.

“I was first told that it was benign and shortly found out later it was cancerous,” De Leon said.  “[The] timing was horrible because I was in my last semester at UTSA. I hadn’t told anybody until a couple of weeks of knowing just because I felt embarrassed.”

The tumor in his heart is difficult to treat and expensive; in addition to his school work, De Leon had to figure out how to pay for chemotherapy.

“I’ve been lucky enough to have met so many people in my life who live all around the country,” he said. “They are the reason I’ve been able to pay for so much of it. I am blessed to have them in my life.”

After the diagnosis, De Leon continued to teach at Churchill High School and Tejeda Middle School, and even finished his BA in Music Studies with a certificate in saxophone performance in December 2018. While a student at UTSA, he was an active member of Phi Mu Alpha Sinfonia, Kappa Kappa Psi, National Honorary Band Service Fraternity, Mariachi Los Paisanos, the Spirit of San Antonio Marching Band and the Spirit of San Antonio Student Association.

Ron Ellis, the director of the bands, inspired De Leon to teach music at the high school or college level.

“He has been my mentor from the beginning and I owe a lot of my success to him,” De Leon says. “Not only a great teacher but he’s great with life advice. He gave me an awesome opportunity to be the drum major instructor and a position on the professional staff for SOSA this past fall and it truly was a fantastic experience.”

As a drum major, De Leon received the UTSA Golden Feather Award at the University Life Awards.

“In my time as a drum major I wanted to leave a legacy of excellence, determination and passion,” De Leon said. “My main goal was to show that even students who came from small schools/band programs, like myself, could land these big roles on a university level. Another goal was to push SOSA over the 300 members mark.”

De Leon is a national collegiate mariachi vocal finalist and a fluent saxophonist.

“I have played a couple of instruments in my thirteen-ish years as a musician,” De Leon said. “I play all the saxophones, primarily alto and soprano, guitar for mariachi, some percussion for Drum Corps (in my earlier years), and I also sing. I started singing for mariachi and when I got here to UTSA I had the tremendous opportunity to teach the freshman our fight song and alma mater.”

Even though De Leon is still battling cancer, he is trying to maintain a positive attitude.

“The everyday life has been tough,” De Leon said. “I am in pain every day, tired every day and just trying to be optimistic. The beginning was tough but every day is a milestone in my eyes.”

De Leon’s parents have been his biggest supporters throughout school and his cancer diagnosis.

“My parents are definitely my strongest supporters,” he said. “ They’ve been to every football game, concert in band and mariachi, parade and so much more since I’ve been here. I’m the person I am today because of how they raised me. Life wasn’t always easy back home. Money wasn’t the best, but they always made sure that my sister and I got what we needed. They inspire me to be the best that I can be. I don’t ever want to let them down and I hope that I’ve made them proud parents.”

Recently, De Leon was informed that the tumor has gotten small enough for a doctor to perform surgery and possibly remove it. The surgeries to remove the tumor start at approximately $10,000. De Leon’s GoFundMe has raided $4,765 and he hopes to reach his goal of $20,000.

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