On a cold and windy Sunday morning in Acton, a small group gathered on the outdoor patio of the Vincent Hill Station Restaurant and Saloon to remember 17-year-old Pedro “Javi” Roman.
Roman, a Valencia High School running back, fought leukemia for two years until his life was cut short in 2021. Last year, a memorial service was held in Central Park — an event attended by hundreds, including Alana Altmayer.
Alana’s sons, Chris and Devan, were friends of Roman’s. Alana said his death deeply affected them all and led her to create a foundation in his honor called Studio 7. The event on Sunday was also a fundraiser for that foundation, which aims to bring awareness to brain cancer and leukemia.
“He was just an amazing kid and I used to give him rides home from dances and football games. He just was a great soul, just everything about him,” said Alana. “He had a smile that just went on for days. It just broke my heart when the diagnosis came out because he was sick for a while before they realized what he had.”
Fighter, inspirer, leader, greatly empathetic and compassionate — these were all words used to describe Roman by those who knew him.
“He fought long, hard, you know and eventually it got to a point where he couldn’t fight any longer, which was sad, but he put the best of what he had,” said Chris Altmayer.
“He would just always push you in the weight room, he was always the loudest, was always making sure you got your last reps and did not let you skip. He was just someone to look to for motivation,” said Anthony Rosale.
Since his death, Alana has been hard at work growing the foundation in his honor. She said the idea to help other kids going through cancer treatment came from Roman himself — who heavily empathized with his fellow patients even as his condition was worsening faster than theirs.
“I wanted to try and take as much of the burden of all of that off of them so they could be with him. And then he was always very concerned about other children in the hospital that were fighting the same disease that he’s fighting and always wanted to help them and make them feel better. And so I’ve made it my goal to do everything I can,” said Alana.
Roman’s mother, Lisa, upheld this sentiment, saying her son’s experience while going through chemotherapy revealed extremely selfless characteristics within the young man. A lot of Roman’s time in the hospital was during the pandemic — a time when many sick children were alone or only with one parent for limited amounts of time.
“He spent a lot of time in PICU, which was an intensive care unit for babies and for kids. So, unfortunately, you see so many other younger kids and babies suffering,” said Lisa. “He went whenever he could, he walked the halls and he made it a point to stop in everybody’s room. He talked to the kids and, I don’t know where he got this from because he didn’t get it from me, but he was so good with his words. He was so uplifting and he was so charismatic and people just gravitated towards him. And these kids, whenever they see him walking down the hall, they would get so excited because he would play video games with them, he would do exercises with them… So it was just really nice to see him interact with all of these kids.”
After Roman was diagnosed in 2019, a large net of support was seen across the Santa Clarita Valley: His football teammates shaved their heads in solidarity with their friend, a GoFundMe page was set up to help the family and dozens of people hosted a drive-by celebration of Roman for his birthday.
This is the second year Studio 7 has hosted a remembrance event. It’s work Alana said helps turn grief proactive — work that aims to both prevent deaths and keep his memory alive. Alana helped Lisa secure almost $50,000 through the GoFundMe campaign.
“She has been instrumental in many things,” said Lisa. “I met her through my son, she and my son have always had a great relationship. So we got really close during football games and then when he got sick, she was just, I mean, she’d come to the hospital. She’d bring me whatever I needed. She’d take care of things at home. She would bring dinner and she made sure other people brought us dinner. She made sure my family was fed. Because, obviously, I spent a good part of those two years in the hospital, probably about 80% of that time was in the hospital. And I have a little one, too, so she’s just an angel.”
As for how she wants her son to be remembered, Lisa said the words of his friends, of Alana’s and her own that paint the portrait of a fearless fighter with a heart of gold are best.
Alana wanted to also make a point that Sunday’s event was thanks to Vincent Hill Station, the vendors, bands and guests who she said were imperative to keeping Roman’s memory alive.