AMARILLO, TX (KFDA) - Four Amarillo childhood cancer advocates are heading to Washington D.C. next week to urge lawmakers to make cancer research funding a priority in next year’s budget.
Among the group is a mother who lost her daughter to leukemia five years ago. 12-year-old Carla Contreras touched the lives of many children battling cancer before she herself passed away from the disease in 2014.
“When she got diagnosed we were battling cancer in our family, one of my nieces," explained Carla’s mother, Lucia Hernandez. "I remember when she asked if we were going to help her cousin and I said Carla, we have to worry about you. She said, no mommy, but now I know what she’s going through and I want to help her.”
Carla raised money to pay for other children’s medical expenses and advocated for blood donations for the Coffee Memorial Blood Center.
She asked her mother to continue helping others even after she was gone, which is why Hernandez launched the non-profit ‘Keeping Carla Alive.’
“By example she taught us how to be kind and how to care about others, so that’s what I’m doing," said Hernandez.
“We have parents who need to be with their child in the hospital and so now jobs are firing those family members. Then they aren’t able to pay their bills and they are having to have more help from organizations like ours," said Kristina Hudson of Panhandle Angels. "It’s devastating the trauma that they are going through while they are trying to go through the devastation of dealing with their child with cancer.”
In 2018, nearly 30 new pediatric cancer cases were diagnosed in the Panhandle.
“That’s not counting the kids who have to go elsewhere for treatment," said Hudson. "The average now is around 20 to 25 kids newly diagnosed, not just in Amarillo, but the surrounding area and treated in Amarillo.”
Their main goal on Capitol Hill is to show lawmakers the faces of pediatric cancer patients.
“I just want them to see these children’s faces because we can talk all day about statistics and numbers and this is how many children get cancer, but if you put a face and a story to those numbers, it will make a greater impact," said Jennifer Brown of Camp Alphie.
One of those stories will be Carla’s, whose legacy continues to give hope to others.
“I hope that it will make a difference so we can save more lives," said Hernandez. "We need to put a stop to all these kids we are losing. They are not getting the chance to live a full life.”
The group will meet with lawmakers, including area Congressman Mac Thornberry, next Tuesday and Wednesday.