Fundraiser set at Ol’ Republic in Nevada City for girl with rare cancer | TheUnion.com

Fundraiser set at Ol’ Republic in Nevada City for girl with rare cancer

Lorraine Jewett
Special to The Union

Alvarez ~ Bill Alvarez, holding Lucas, and Ali Alvarez, holding Lola, said they appreciate the overwhelming generosity of the community. Both parents shaved their heads in support of their daughter when Lola lost her hair due to chemotherapy treatments.

Lola Alvarez is an active toddler, playing with her family's border collie, learning new words and roughhousing with her older brother.

She's also fighting a rare form of cancer.

On May 26, just weeks before her second birthday, Lola was diagnosed with late stage neuroblastoma.

Lola's parents, Bill and Ali, were devastated. Ali used to work as a massage therapist but that's impossible now with frequent doctor visits and hospital stays. Health insurance, through Bill's job at a Sacramento solar company, pays for Lola's treatments. Other costs, such as travel to hospitals in Sacramento and San Francisco, hotel rooms and time off work, will be shouldered by the family.

Friends are organizing a fundraiser for Lola on Saturday at Nevada City's ol' Republic Brewery, whose owners are donating 10 percent of sales during the event.

It's been a tumultuous six months for the Alvarez family. Ali said she intuitively knew there was something wrong with Lola because the little girl suffered frequent fevers and was lethargic.

Recommended Stories For You

"I told her pediatrician that something was wrong, but he didn't listen so her tumor grew to the size of a cantaloupe," Ali said. "Finally a friend, who works in the children's oncology unit at Sutter, saw Lola and told us to immediately take her to the hospital. We did, and Lola was diagnosed with stage four neuroblastoma."

Neuroblastoma is a type of cancer that starts in early forms of nerve cells found in an embryo or fetus and occurs most often in infants and young children.

Lola's first surgery on Sept. 8, which lasted six hours, was initially deemed a success. Chemotherapy had shrunk the tumor near her liver to the size of an orange, down from its former cantaloupe size.

About a week after that first surgery, doctors discovered at least one lymph node that may need to be removed, so a second surgery may be required.

The little girl remains happy go-lucky despite repeated hospital stays and invasive therapies.

"Lola is amazing," said Ali. "She's really smart. She loves Sesame Street and Elmo and learning her numbers and colors. Her sense of humor through this has been so inspirational. She's a teacher to all of us."

Ali said she's confident a successful outcome awaits Lola, but she knows it will take a year of aggressive treatments including stem cell replacement therapy, surgeries, chemotherapy, radiation and immunotherapy.

Unfortunately, the Alvarezes haven't yet paid off hospital bills incurred when their son, Lucas, was born.

Ali preferred a home birth, but complications arose and the unborn baby's heart rate plummeted. Ali was rushed to Sierra Nevada Memorial Hospital where doctors performed an emergency cesarean section.

"Lucas was having heart seizures, and breathing and lung problems," said Ali. "I stayed and recovered at our hospital while Lucas and Bill were rushed to UC Davis. I literally got to touch my baby for one second."

Lucas was treated in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit at UC Davis for 12 days, while Ali recuperated at SNMH for four days. Today, the only evidence of the boy's rough start in life is hearing aids in both ears. Lucas, who will be four-years-old next month, attends a Montessori preschool and is doing well.

"Even though insurance paid most of it, we still have bills from it and they keep calling me for payment," said Ali. "But we're close — just $250 left."

Ali is tough, patient, and mentally strong. Those characteristics have helped her get through the health issues of both her children, and a recent scare with her mother. Ali's mother was diagnosed this summer with melanoma skin cancer, which was successfully removed.

The goal of Saturday's fundraiser for Lola is $15,000. There will be raffle prizes, a food truck, live music and a silent auction featuring vacations and fitness classes. At 12:30, guests can watch a beer yoga demonstration.

"It just for fun," said co-organizer Mary Anderson. "It integrates beer drinking and yoga. We'll only be drinking the beer when we're standing or sitting, not when we're moving. For instance, we'll take a sip when we do a sun salutation.

"She's like family to me," said Anderson, referring to Ali. "We've known each other forever. It's just the right thing to do, for the love of family."

Wendy Krill Holding, another family friend helping coordinate the fundraiser, gathered donations and created a website for the event.

"Ali and I have both grown up here and have always known this is a great community," said Holding, "Even so, I have been blown away by all the generosity."

Another fundraiser is planned next month. Singer/songwriter Brett Dennen will perform at a benefit concert at the Center for the Arts on Oct. 25. All proceeds from the event will be donated to the Alvarez family.

To keep well-wishers abreast of Lola's progress, the Alvarez family maintains a blog on CaringBridge.org.

"We want to thank everyone. We appreciate the generosity of our friends, family, and people we don't even know," Bill said. "Everyone is just really giving."

Lorraine Jewett is a freelance writer who lives in Nevada County. She can be reached at LorraineJewettWrites@gmail.com.

KNOW & GO

What: Fundraiser for the Alvarez Family

Where: Ol’ Republic Brewery, 125 Argall Way, Nevada City

When” Noon to 5 p.m. Saturday

Fundraiser: LolaStrong.Weebly.com and TheCenterForTheArts.org/event/evening-brett-dennen-benefit-lola

Family Blog: CaringBridge.org/visit/AlvarezFamily