Reedley High grad, football standout dies from cancer

Kings Canyon Unified School District offers grief counseling for students, families after death of recent graduate Malachi Rios

Reedley High School graduate and former football player Malachi Rios, 18, passed away on July 8, 2024 from testicular cancer. This photo was posted by Jessica Rios, Malachi's mother, on the GoFundMe page along with the update of his passing.
Serena Bettis
Published July 9, 2024  • 
4:00 pm

REEDLEY – Less than two years after receiving a severe cancer diagnosis, Reedley High School graduate and former football player Malachi Rios has passed away.

Rios, 18, died in the hospital July 8, his mother Jessica Contreras announced on Facebook that evening. Rios had the chance to walk with his graduating class at the end of May before the cancer continued to progress throughout June; he is survived by his family, including his parents and six younger sisters.

Malachi Rios sporting a big smile and carrying a rose after receiving his diploma during Reedley High School’s graduation ceremony on Thursday, May 24, 2024. Malachi was able to join his classmates for his graduation ceremony amid his battle with cancer. (Jon Earnest)

“My beautiful boy, you no longer know pain and suffering,” Contreras wrote in her update. “The angels have escorted you into eternity. Thank you for all the beautiful memories and love that you poured into our lives. We already miss you.”

In November 2022, Rios’ junior year, lower back pain brought him into the emergency room, where doctors discovered testicular mixed germ cell tumors that had spread to his lungs and lymph nodes. Rios was officially diagnosed with stage four testicular cancer at the beginning of December 2022 and underwent chemotherapy treatment.

By spring 2023, Rios was in remission as scans revealed his tumors were still present but shrinking; however, he experienced a recurrence of the cancer in August 2023. Throughout the fall of Rios’ senior year, he received high-dose chemotherapy and a stem cell transplant. 

Despite the recurrence of the cancer, Rios was insistent on participating in normal high school activities as much as possible — he played for the RHS football team and scored two touchdowns the week before he started chemotherapy again. 

Rios saw an outpouring of support from the Reedley community over the last year and a half, with his presence at just a few games over the course of the football season greeted with enthusiasm. Former Mid Valley Times reporter Jon Earnest wrote in an article from Oct. 9, 2023, that Rios joined the RHS football team in a post-game huddle after the first win of the season as “RHS players and coaches chanted ‘Mal-a-chi, Mal-a-chi’ while soaking in the long-awaited success.” 

Even with standard treatment and the high-dose chemotherapy, Rios’ cancer continued to progress through January and February. Additional tests conducted by his doctors revealed the cancer mutated into a rare and treatment-resistant form, according to a GoFundMe organized for the family to help with medical bills.

Instead of undergoing even more chemotherapy, Rios’ family searched for additional treatment options and was able to travel to the Hope4Cancer Treatment Center in Cancun, Mexico, to receive a variety of therapy alternatives in April.

Reedley High’s Malachi Rios greeting his Pirates football teammates after a 60-42 victory over Hanford West on Oct. 6, 2023. (Jon Earnest)

After that treatment, Rios was able to attend his senior prom and graduate from high school; however, his family posted an update July 7 that said the treatments did not work and the cancer had spread even more. His family said he spent the last few weeks at home receiving end of life care to help manage his pain before being transported to the emergency room on July 7. 

Rios’ family has received a tremendous amount of support from the community throughout this time, with individuals raising more than $115,000 between two GoFundMe campaigns to allow the family to focus on Rios. The family has thanked the community for their prayers and for respecting their privacy during this time.

A new GoFundMe has also been set up by Darnell Rivera to support Rios’ family after his passing, with donations going toward funeral service expenses, “easing the financial strain from lost wages and addressing the remaining medical expenses,” the page said.

“The community of Reedley, along with those from surrounding areas, has shown incredible generosity and support throughout Malachi’s journey, and the family is deeply grateful for every contribution and act of kindness,” the page said. “We humbly ask on behalf of the family for your help one more time.”

Kings Canyon Unified School District (KCUSD) released a statement of support for Rios’ family and friends and said the district is providing grief counselors for students and their families in the Pirate Helm at RHS from 8 a.m. to noon beginning July 9 and continuing “every day thereafter as needed.” To contact a member of the support staff, call 559-305-7010.

“Malachi not only impacted his local community but also reached beyond to surrounding areas and even touched hearts around the world,” Rivera wrote on the GoFundMe page. “His positive influence and unwavering courage will be remembered by all.”

Serena Bettis
General Assignment Reporter