EL CENTRO — Caelynn Iten of Holtville was diagnosed with bone cancer when she was three years old, and her family was devastated their little girl had to suffer through the frightening medical procedures and other problems that arise while fighting the dreaded disease.
“We didn’t know what to do,” confided Leticia Iten, Caelynn’s mother. “It was so unexpected, we didn’t know where to go.” But the community of Holtville quickly banded together and began fundraising for the family to help with expenses.
Iten said she is not sure they would have been able to get through the treatments without local support. Now seven, Caelyn has been cancer-free for three years, much to the delight of both her family and the community.
Her case was what pushed her grandmother to establish “Halos and Tiaras.” Based out of Holtville, the group provides resources to Imperial Valley children with cancer and continues the same work that helped the Iten family when they were in crisis.
On Saturday, Halos and Tiaras partnered up with the Cancer Resource Center of the Desert and Clan Darksail Pirate group to host the second annual “Go Gold” dinner celebration for local children who are currently living with and have survived cancer.
The night was meant to give children and families a chance to get out of the hospital or medical settings and just relax, according to organizers. Costumed characters “The Royal French Privateers of Clan Darksail” along with “Mermaid Callie” provided entertainment for the kids and Johnny’s Burritos in Imperial catered the event.
Marylou Martinez said the two groups helped her a lot with her daughter’s treatment. “It helps a lot, especially for her to meet other little kids,” said Martinez. “She just fills others with happiness.”
“It’s a big help,” said parent Debbie Baro. Baro’s son Brayden was diagnosed with neuroblastoma cancer when he was a year old, and he has been cancer-free for ten years. “They are just a world of help,” she said of the group.
Halos and Tiaras has helped families by giving donations of $500, a wagon for the child’s belongings when traveling for treatments, or if the child needs to ride, and a chemo bear. The group also pays for medical costs as well as home expenses including helping pay bills, gas cards, and more.
“We are just very blessed to live in a wonderful community of the Imperial Valley that’s very giving,” said Marcy Bingham, co-founder of Halos and Tiaras. “It’s not really us that does the work, it’s everyone else contributing to that.”
Along with Halos and Tiaras, the Cancer Resource Center of the Desert also provides resources for families battling the disease. They can arrange transport for families who need to travel to San Diego or Los Angeles, help with insurance issues, arrange places for families to stay, and much more in collaboration with Halos and Tiaras.
“It’s amazing how, as two agencies, we can work together,” said Helen Palomino, CEO of the Cancer Resource Center.
Mercedes Watson of the Cancer Resource Center said if the center gets word of a new child, they send all the information to Halos and Tiaras and collaborate with them to make the situation easier for the families. Currently, there are 25 children in the Imperial Valley who are either receiving treatment for cancer, or are in remission. Caelynn Iten is included in that number.
Sadly, there have been three deaths in the Imperial County this year, Watson said.
September is Childhood Cancer Awareness month, a time of special recognition to increase awareness about a type of cancer that does not always get attention. Watson said only four percent of funds raised through traditional agencies will go towards childhood cancer research.