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Group Which Helps Central, South Coast Families Fight Pediatric Cancer Launches Big Fundraising Push

Elias Mendoza (center) with parents

When you first meet Elias Mendoza of Ojai, he seems like a typical teenager.

He’s friendly, and a little shy. But the 15 year old is living a nightmare that no one should have to experience.

For the past three years, he’s been battling cancer.

Twice doctors told him he’d beaten it, but it’s returned for a third time. He just had his latest round of chemotherapy, and admits he’s not feeling great.

The teen’s ordeal began when he was just 12. His parents took him to a hospital after some back pain doctors couldn’t diagnose suddenly got worse.

Elias’ mother, Arianna Mendoza, says there was a diagnosis of blood cancer, and emergency surgery, starting him on a series of different treatments which continue to this day. 

Herman Mendoza, his father, says it was pretty overwhelming.

The family didn’t just find itself overwhelmed emotionally. It was hard hit financially.

That’s where a Santa Barbara County based foundation serving the Central and South Coasts stepped up to help.

Lindsey Leonard is Executive Director of the Teddy Bear Cancer Foundation, which helps families in Ventura, Santa Barbara, and San Luis Obispo Counties dealing with pediatric cancer with financial and emotional support. 

She says the organization has been helping more than 150 families a year, with everything from money for mortgages, and rent, to gas cards to get them to medical appointments.

Leonard says pediatric cancer is the leading cause of childhood death. Requests for assistance have been up by about 50% during the first part of the year, so the non-profit is hoping to raise $300,000 in September, which is national childhood cancer awareness month.

The Mendozas say the foundation has provided critical financial help for the family, especially during the initial cancer diagnosis for Elias.

It’s also assisted in other ways, helping to line up home schooling Elias so he’s been able to stay on track as a 10th grade student.

He’s hopeful this third round of chemotherapy will finally stop his cancer. The first two times he was treated, the family had big parties to celebrate what they thought was the end of the battle.

Now, he says he’s hoping to celebrate finally beating the disease by visiting relatives he hasn’t seen in years who live in Mexico.

While many teens might be dreaming about things like getting a driver’s license, or a fancy new phone, Elias has a much more down to earth wish.

He’s just hoping to be healthy.

Lance Orozco has been News Director of KCLU since 2001, providing award-winning coverage of some of the biggest news events in the region, including the Thomas and Woolsey brush fires, the deadly Montecito debris flow, the Borderline Bar and Grill attack, and Ronald Reagan's funeral. 
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