Marcel and Doris Ibañez said they first marched in the Walk 4 MHF in 2018 to support a school friend of their son, Dalton, who was attending Meadows Elementary School.
After initially participating to support the cause every year, the Ibañezes said the event became more personal for them when Dalton was diagnosed with soft tissue sarcoma in 2020.
According to the National Cancer Institute, soft tissue sarcoma is a rare form of cancer that starts in soft tissues such as muscles, tendons, fat, lymph and blood vessels, and nerves. They can develop anywhere in the body but are “found mostly in the arms, legs, chest, and abdomen.”
Doris said despite his condition being rare, she is encouraged by all the support they get from families going through similar situations with their children.
“It feels good to talk with people experiencing the same thing,” Doris said. “I know people say, ‘I’m sorry,’ or ‘I know how you feel,’ but you don’t know until you experience it. It’s very hard.”
Hundreds of people gathered at College of the Canyons’ Cougar Stadium Saturday morning to support kids like Dalton in the Walk 4 MHF, “a walk for kids with cancer,” and raise funds for the Michael Hoefflin Foundation for Pediatric Cancer, a nonprofit that provides financial and emotional support to children and their families who are battling cancer in Santa Clarita and the surrounding valleys.
Marcel said he felt the support from every single person in attendance. It is the overall community encouragement that provides him and his family with the strength to keep fighting their battle.
“We feel like we have the support of the whole community behind us rocking and rolling for a common cause,” Marcel said. “It gives us strength. It gives us peace and gives us a lot of motivation to continue our battle and fight.”
Holly Cordova, a member of the walk committee, said the Walk 4 MHF is an annual event, but was stalled during the pandemic. Despite hosting a virtual walk last year, Cordova said it’s more memorable to have all the supporters back in person once again.
“When you have something live and you get to see the families and the kids here, and you get the excitement of everybody coming together, it’s so special,” Cordova said.
Registration for the event was $25 and children 5 and under were free. Cordova said all the proceeds raised from the walk will go toward the foundation to continue helping the children and their families.
According to Cordova, they exceeded their fundraising from years prior.
“We’re really so grateful to the entire Santa Clarita community with the support they’ve provided us over the years,” Cordova said. “We’re going to hit $100,000. As of early this morning, we had $97,500 raised and that’s because we just live in such a generous community.”
The event kicked off with multiple guest speakers, including Chris and Sue Hoefflin, the founders of the Michael Hoefflin Foundation. The two spoke about their experience with their son, Michael, who died from cancer in 1996, igniting their passion to help others who are experiencing similar situations.
Following the speeches, the attendees lined up at the start line to begin their trek around the track and the COC campus. Some children dashed out in a full sprint, while most participants walked at a brisk pace.
“[The kids] are always really excited,” Cordova said. “It’s so great seeing their smiling faces.”
Along with the walk, the event also featured a silent auction and a raffle for a GoPro camera. “Superheroes Visit” character actors dressed as Spider-man, Spider-woman and Superman all made a guest appearance to take photos with the kids and encourage the ones who crossed the finish line.
SCV resident Chris Gillett said he works for ASC Processing Systems, which is one of the companies with the highest amount of donations to the foundation. Gillett said he and his daughter, Lennyn, 5, come to the event every year to support the foundation and the families associated with it.
“I have friends that have kids with cancer, and it’s just a good cause,” Gillett said. “I want to raise my children to grow up and fight for something that they truly believe in.”
The Ibañez family said that, often, families feel alone in their battle with cancer and struggle to find someone to go to for support. They said the foundation gave them the help they needed and provided them with people they can talk to who are going through a similar situation.
“This is a good cause to join because we didn’t know other people that experienced the same condition,” Doris said. “It’s hard to find somebody that understands the feeling. It’s good to reach out and support because it’s scary when you’re alone.”