A Collin Street Bakery manager earned a new “S” on his chest after parting with a treasured Superman jacket to cheer up a fellow Man of Steel fan who is battling cancer.
Alex Cruz, an assistant store manager at the Waco bakery, was helping a group of out-of-town travelers who had stopped at the bakery during Thanksgiving week.
One of the women asked Cruz about the Superman jacket he was wearing, telling him that was her son’s favorite superhero.
She then disclosed that her son was battling testicular cancer, and Cruz, 32, shared that he had overcome the same cancer four years ago.
He offered encouragement to the woman, but noted her sadness at her son’s uncertain medical condition.
Then, on an impulse, he offered her a tangible symbol of hope and comfort — the plush Superman jacket he was wearing.
“I took it off and I walked over to her and gave it to her, and she just started crying, her mom started crying, her husband started crying, we were all hugging each other,” said Cruz, who also oversees catering operations for all of the Collin Street branches.
“I just told her to concentrate on getting through the holidays, and don’t think about the sickness. Just know that it’s going to be OK . . . right now he needs your strength.”
Cruz’s supervisor, Tracy Lair, the store’s manager, witnessed the exchange in utter disbelief, as Cruz’s infatuation with Superman is well-known among the staff.
In addition to wearing Superman-themed apparel
every day to work, Cruz goes by the name Lexx in reference to Superman’s nemesis Lex Luthor, and also has a tattoo on his upper right arm featuring the iconic Superman emblem set in a tribal pattern.
“I wondered what would make him give away his Superman jacket when I saw him do that,” Lair said, calling Cruz one of her best employees. “That’s just the kind of guy he is. I didn’t think he’d ever give away any of his Superman stuff, but I wouldn’t think it was unusual if he gave away something else.”
“I love Lexx to death anyway, he’s just an all-around great guy.”
Cruz’s adoration for the Man of Steel stems from his own lifelong health battles, including being born prematurely with damage to multiple organs. When the Groesbeck native was 8, he spent three months in the hospital with pneumonia, including an incident in which he said he flatlined and was considered dead before being successfully resuscitated.
At some point during that lengthy hospital stay, a nurse gave him a Superman sticker, spawning Cruz’s connection to the character for nearly 25 years. He owns at least five other Superman jackets, in addition to the one he gave away, plus about 20 shirts and countless toys and collectible items.
Cruz said he felt compelled to do something for the customer because her worries about her son reminded him of the stress his own mother endured as a single parent of a child who constantly battled illness. Cruz said his mother would buy him a new Superman item every time he overcame an illness or surgery.
His health battles still aren’t over. Doctors discovered a tumor in his stomach this summer, and Cruz will have to undergo surgery and chemotherapy at some point in 2015.
“Giving up a Superman item is extremely hard for me, but it gave me hope, because I think that’s what the character stands for . . . and (this is) passing on the torch to him where he can say, ‘I beat cancer, and nothing can beat me,’ then more power to him,” Cruz said.
“I couldn’t give any money, but if I could give hope, then that’s what I wanted to do.”
Cruz didn’t get the woman’s name or contact info, but he gave her his own business card and asked her for one simple promise in return for the jacket.
“I told her, ‘Give this to him, and when he beats (the cancer), because he’s going to beat it, come back and see me with him,’ ” Cruz said.