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Teddy Bear Cancer Foundation steps up during COVID-19 to help families of local children battling cancer 

Pediatric cancer is already one of the worst predicaments that a child and family can face. Having to contend with that illness and a global pandemic at the same time is almost unthinkable.

Since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, Senior Development Director Brittany Avila Wazny with the Teddy Bear Cancer Foundation—which has served families battling childhood cancer in the San Luis Obispo-Santa Barbara-Ventura Tri-Counties area since 2002—has worked hard to bolster its programs and services knowing that its families face even more uncertainty, isolation, and health risks due to the virus.

click to enlarge LITTLE WARRIOR Ariya Ramos (pictured), of Santa Maria, was diagnosed with neuroblastoma in 2018 when she was just 3 years old. After more than a year of treatment, including chemotherapy, Ramos entered the first grade this fall. - PHOTO COURTESY OF TEDDY BEAR CANCER FOUNDATION
  • Photo Courtesy Of Teddy Bear Cancer Foundation
  • LITTLE WARRIOR Ariya Ramos (pictured), of Santa Maria, was diagnosed with neuroblastoma in 2018 when she was just 3 years old. After more than a year of treatment, including chemotherapy, Ramos entered the first grade this fall.

"COVID has been not only isolating, but incredibly frightening to families," she said. "They're already isolating because if someone so much as coughs around their child and their child gets the common cold even, it's life threatening during their treatment. They're having to do so tenfold now. ... It's very traumatic."

The impacts of COVID-19 on these families are endless—added isolation, schooling challenges, and economic impacts of lost work are just a few. In an effort to meet the moment, Teddy Bear is writing more checks to families, doubling the number of support groups it offers, and going the extra mile on holidays to deliver joy to clients.

"There are lots of various ways to make them feel like they're not alone," Avila Wazny said. "That's one of the parents' biggest feedbacks. Most of their friends and loved ones—their circle around them—has never gone through this experience."

The emotional support groups, facilitated by a professional marriage and family therapist, have moved to Zoom since the pandemic, which Avila Wazny said has actually been a blessing in disguise.

"It's allowed all of our families to have access to them. Even when they're in the hospital getting treatment, they can attend the support group," she said.

As part of its Gold Ribbon Campaign to raise funds for Childhood Cancer Awareness Month in September, Teddy Bear is highlighting one little hero in particular to raise awareness: Ariya Ramos of Santa Maria.

In 2018, 3-year-old Ramos began struggling with intense stomach pains. After many doctors' visits, an ultrasound finally discovered an abnormality on her liver. Then, a CT scan revealed that Ramos had neuroblastoma, a form of childhood cancer.

Ramos and her family spent the next six months making frequent trips to the Children's Hospital in Los Angeles for chemotherapy. Ramos endured two stem cell transplants, 12 days of radiation, and six months of immunotherapy before celebrating her end-of-chemo party in 2019.

Throughout the ordeal, the Teddy Bear Foundation provided the Ramos family $4,250 in direct aid, paid for her tutoring, and will cover a $1,500 bill for a neuropsychological test this fall as she starts the first grade.

"She's doing great," Avila Wazny said. "She's such a little warrior. Her diagnosis and age are actually one of the most common cases that we see, which is kind of heartbreaking that the kids are so young and are in treatment for so long. She's just exemplified how all of them are just incredible little warriors."

Avila Wazny said that Teddy Bear is interested in boosting its services in the SLO County and northern Santa Barbara County areas, which are their most underserved communities on the Central Coast.

"The SLO County area is our lowest serving area, by far, and that's really just because no one knows about us yet," she said. "We are certainly eager and wanting to help more families up there."

To contact the Teddy Bear Cancer Foundation, or get involved in its Gold Ribbon Campaign as a business or individual, visit teddybearcancerfoundation.org or call (805) 962-7466.

Fast facts

U.S. Rep Maxine Waters (D-Los Angeles) will be the keynote speaker at the NAACP SLO County's Freedom Fund Gala, slated for Saturday, Oct. 16, from 5 to 7 p.m. This livestreamed event will include an awards presentation, entertainment, and a silent auction. Visit naacpslocty.org/gala for details.

Central Coast Distillery took home the "Visitor's Experience Award" at a Cal Travel Association tourism summit on Sept. 14. The Atascadero company, known for its Forager spirits brand, was recognized by the association for its "unique way of personifying the spirit and essence of California," according to press materials. Δ

Assistant Editor Peter Johnson wrote this week's Strokes and Plugs. Send tidbits to strokes@newtimesslo.com.

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