Families, businesses cross COC for annual walk for loved ones with cancer

Members from Team Brandon stand together following the end of the Michael Hoefflin Foundation Walk. Ryan Mancini/ The Signal

While attending Saturday’s 9th annual Michael Hoefflin Foundation Walk for Kids with Cancer at College of the Canyons, Mauro Esparza walked with his son Brandon in mind.

Brandon was diagnosed with neuroblastoma in September 2017. Now 20 years old, he’s still undergoing treatment. So his father gathered about 200 coworkers from ASC Process Systems in Valencia and members of his family to participate in the walk. Since his son is a “Star Wars” fan, members of Team Brandon wore dark green shirts emblazoned with an image of the character Yoda on them.

“I believe it’s the largest group here today, and it’s probably the largest group ever to join this walk,” Esparza said. “So we had a really great turnout on behalf of my son.”

The local nonprofit foundation helps provide financial and emotional support for families with children diagnosed with cancer. It was named after Michael Hoefflin, who lost his fight with brain cancer in 1996 at the age of 10.

“So many times when a child is diagnosed, parents just pick them up and go to the hospital,” said Gillian Stone, the foundation’s executive director. “We’ve heard of times where the parents don’t have shoes on their feet. ‘We’ve just got to go.’ You don’t care about anything else, right?”

The foundation helps families with a care kit, containing a toy and supplies like paper and pencils, as well as $200 for gas and groceries per month over the course of a year. The walk is the largest out of six events held by the foundation throughout the year, Stone said.

The walk, which consisted of 50 families and several businesses, aimed to raise $100,000, Stone said. Though located in Santa Clarita, the foundation’s support reaches out to the San Fernando Valley, Antelope Valley and the Conejo Valley. Given the foundation’s support for families who learn of their diagnoses at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles, the aim is to expand further.

“Our dream would be able to help all of the children in Los Angeles,” she said.

Esparza’s team has participated in the walk for the last five years, beginning when a co-worker’s child was diagnosed with cancer. Along with Brandon, Esparza has also dealt with his younger son Nathan’s leukemia diagnosis when he was five years old. Now 13 years old, Nathan is healthy and joined the team on the walk for his brother.

“It makes everyone aware,” Esparza said about the walk. “Cancer is a very ugly disease. It does not discriminate. We have to continue to do our part to help out, make sure that we get the word out and donate as much as we can for research. Because we’ve got to find a cure. We lose too many loved ones every year to this horrible disease and it’s got to stop.”

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