At age 12, Axel Penaloza was diagnosed with brain cancer.
“I was so scared,” Penaloza says. “I was thinking, why is this happening to me? I just want to go to school and be free from cancer.”
He was not alone in his fears. His older brother suffered as he saw his little brother go through treatment, and his parents – both first generation Americans from Mexico– struggled to manage the unknown that is a cancer diagnosis.
Thankfully, there was a nonprofit to help them: Teddy Bear Cancer Foundation (TBCF). TBCF provides three core programs aimed at supporting children and their families through pediatric cancer: financial, emotional, and educational support.
Low and moderate-income families residing in Santa Barbara, Ventura, and San Luis Obispo can receive up to $5,000 for expenses at the time of an initial cancer diagnosis. “A cancer diagnosis is an incredible economic hit,” says TBCF board member Sheela Hunt. Additionally, up to $2,500 is available to families whose child relapses after their cancer treatment. In the most tragic moments imaginable, TBCF will cover funeral costs of up to $2,500.
Through its emotional support program, Teddy Bear provides family counseling groups, events aimed at family connection, and “care for the caregivers” like a Mother’s Spa Day. Anything to bring some normalcy in such a horrific time for a family.
Finally, the organization helps children regain their feet in school. Not only do children miss days for treatment, but treatment can also cause cognitive delays. TBCF provides up to $1,000 for tutoring and covers the cost of neuropsychological testing, so that children who experience cognitive issues can get the help they need in school.
For the Penaloza family, this enveloping support helped get their boy through. Now, 14, Axel wants to be an inspiration for all the children fighting cancer today.
“I know it takes a long time, but I struggled and struggled with all my heart, and I tried everything and did not give up,” he says. “Now I am free from cancer.
“Say to yourself, ‘I will never give up.’ Say it so loud that everyone can hear you. You can do this. Never, never, never give up.”