From right, Rosio Almaguer and Emily Urzua and their families are drawing strength and support from the Teddy Bear Cancer Foundation. “Families with children diagnosed with cancer often find themselves isolated,” says development director Bryan Kerner, left. “Having a greater community of family and friends around will make them feel less isolated and more informed.” (Emma Hermansson / Noozhawk photo)
By Emma Hermansson, Noozhawk Intern | @NoozhawkNews
Families of children with cancer face a bewildering challenge. The Santa Barbara-based Teddy Bear Cancer Foundation strives to make their lives a little bit easier.
Every day in the United States four children will die of cancer, while 13,000 Americans under the age of 21 are diagnosed with the disease each year. That’s 36 kids, every day.
“We wish we could get ourselves out of a job, that would be fantastic,” said Bryan Kerner, development director at the nonprofit Teddy Bear Cancer Foundation, which helps families of children with cancer living in Santa Barbara, Ventura and San Luis Obispo counties.
“But while the need is there, we’ll do whatever we can.”
Teddy Bear Cancer Foundation has been providing financial and emotional support to families since 2002. For September’s Childhood Cancer Awareness Month, the organization created an eight-week Gold Ribbon Campaign, an awareness and fundraising effort that runs through Oct. 31.
“We’ve been trying to raise $200,000 from a minimum of 1,000 community members while getting our message out to 250,000 people,” Kerner told Noozhawk. “Currently, we are at $154,000 with only a few days left, and we’re having a final push to hit our goal.
“It’s important to make people aware of who we are and the need of financial support.”
When a child is diagnosed with cancer, the entire family is upended. Parents must take time off work or quit their jobs so they can be at the hospital with their children, leaving the family with a significant hit to their monthly income. TBCF organizes all sorts of events, such as spa days for mothers, fishing trips for fathers, and seasonal events such as gingerbread decoration parties to brighten everyday life for families.
“Families with children diagnosed with cancer often find themselves isolated,” Kerner said. “The children themselves … feel all alone. Often the siblings say, ‘I wish I had cancer’ because they don’t know why their brother or sister gets so much attention.
“Having a greater community of family and friends around will make them feel less isolated and more informed.”
Emily Urzua’s stepdaughter was diagnosed with cancer just before her freshman year of high school. She’s now 19.
“She’s been fighting ever since and it’s been a very long, hard struggle,” Urzua said. “She’s now at Serenity House, which is a hospice, and she stopped doing treatment about a year and a half ago. She’s slowly shutting down.”
Urzua and her family came in contact with the Teddy Bear Cancer Foundation through their social worker at the Pediatric Cancer Center.
“Finding out your child has cancer is one of the most overwhelming, worst nightmares you can imagine,” she said. “I can’t even describe it. The world stands still. To have people who come in to your life, hold your hand and tell you what to do next is invaluable.”
Urzua’s daughter is the oldest of six children and most of her treatment has been atUCLA, which makes it difficult to find time for all the kids while traveling back and forth to West Los Angeles.
“We didn’t know what to do or where to go, and Teddy Bear kind of pulled us up,” she said. “Just whatever we needed, every step of the way, they were there, almost like an extra parent. It’s really been a lifeline for the whole family.
“Just like Bryan said, the little ones see how their sister is getting all of their parents’ attention and they don’t even remember a time when their sister wasn’t sick,” she continued. “This has been their whole world, and Teddy Bear really stepped up and spoiled the kids in a way that we couldn’t because of the extended hospital stays and times in L.A.”
Rosio Almaguer is one of the most recent additions to the team at Teddy Bear Cancer Foundation. As program director, she works closely with families.
“This job can be tough, but in a good way,” she said. “I hadn’t dealt with cancer since my niece was diagnosed in 2008. I hadn’t been a part of an environment like that, and now to be able to connect with the families is tough, but it’s amazing, as well. I get to hear how much hope they have, and I see myself as a little piece of that hope.
“I need to be strong and offer 130 percent of what I can do so that the family doesn’t have to worry about anything that doesn’t have to do with their child,” Almaguer continued.
“Teddy Bear has always been about finding the needs of the families, and we’ll work as long as it takes to get it done.”