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Meet the Mamas

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Cancer Ribbon.jpg

MBFCC was founded by these five moms providing immediate peer support to one another through experience and knowledge at the time of their child’s cancer diagnosis, and throughout treatment.

 

Even the fiercest Mama Bear can feel shocked and overwhelmed following a child’s cancer diagnosis. Honest and calm conversations with other parents with a child diagnosed with cancer can help. Together, we support each other and make each other stronger while traveling this cancer journey!

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Debi Mitchell

President and Treasure

Director of Operations and Client Relations

My son Austin was diagnosed at 12 years old in January 2021 with Stage 3 Acute T-Cell Lymphoblastic Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma. I took him to the doctor to check on what I thought was an asthma issue and instead turned out to be the day my family’s lives changed forever. As a parent, I was terrified for my son and the possibility of losing him, and the fear of the unknown was overwhelming. Suddenly, my son and I were living in the hospital and separated from the rest of the family. There was such an overwhelming feeling of anxiety that I experienced when my child was diagnosed with cancer that my brain couldn’t seem to process through the fog. In communicating with other moms who also had a child diagnosed with cancer, I was able to slowly begin to navigate through the fog, and the medical terminology, and be the strong mom I needed to be for my son and my family. Meeting the other four moms who are also co-founders of our organization early on in Austin’s treatment journey saved me. No words can describe how wonderful it is to be a part of a safe community of parents who are literally walking down the same path as me, who understand my fears, and anxiety, and can help support me through the challenges that arise during treatment (i.e., high fevers, nauseous, blood and platelet transfusions, reactions to chemo treatment). Sharing the challenges and struggles as well as celebrating the successes and accomplishments of our warrior children with families who “get it” is so comforting.  I’m honored and blessed to not only be a co-founder of this organization but to walk this path with each new parent that joins this community. My goal is that no parent travels this journey alone! Our motto is clear: Carry your family, we’ll carry you. It’s one step at a time, one day at a time!

Andrea Velasquez, Esq.

Vice-President, and Director of Compliance and Membership

My daughter, Samantha was diagnosed with Rhabdomyosarcoma in January 2021 just before her 10th birthday.  We were totally blindsided, devastated, scared, and overwhelmed at our introduction meetings with the pediatric oncology team.  Our lives immediately turned upside down and went from taking the kids to school and going to work to long hospital stays and juggling being a caretaker, advocate, and mama for my cancer patient daughter and my son at home. We had a treatment protocol that was mapped out for a year of treatment and my desire was to put our heads down and power through.  I was not interested in making friends, attending support groups, or talking with a therapist.  All that was just one too many things on an already too long to-do list.  But Samantha, who is super social, and was totally sick of only hanging out with her parents and nurses, was adamant about making friends.  Initially, we met Ashley and Austin, and then later we met Ezekiel. Talking and bonding with these warrior kids and their parents were like applying a healing salve on my otherwise broken heart.  Suddenly hospital stays were a fun time to reconnect with friends and a group text became a safe place to vent, talk, ask questions, and gauge whether you were in fact going crazy.  Through our shared experience and bringing together each of our dim little lights we were able to shine bright and Mama Bears Fighting Childhood Cancer was born.  We hope you find comfort and solace in this beautiful, safe community.

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Sara Tapparo

Director of Bereavement and Peer and Emotional Support

My journey began when my then 9-month-old daughter, Ashley was diagnosed with Ewing’s Sarcoma. At that time, my older daughter, Brittany was 7. What a complete shock it was to hear that my baby had a tumor in her head. I remember feeling numb and being able to see the doctors talking but being unable to process the information and words they were saying. There was a lot of time in those first weeks when I felt just blank. After a year of living in the hospital, Ashley rang the bell – a tradition signaling the end of chemotherapy. We went home and enjoyed 16 years of cancer-free life building great memories. Then, in May 2020, after some unexplained neck and shoulder pain, we received the terrifying news that Ashley’s cancer had returned. Ashley took on her second battle like a champ but after almost a year we were tired and lonely and struggling to find the motivation to continue. Ashley and I prayed one night for God to help us be able to make it through the last part of this second battle. God soon answered and sent us Samantha, Austin, Brady, and Zeke along with their mamas. An incredible friendship began and grew stronger each day. We supported each other on the hard days, cheered for each other on the good days, and held each other up through testing days, waiting for scan result days, and just plain boring days. Life in the hospital and clinic was easier with each other. Ashley again rang the bell signaling victory of her second battle with cancer. Her new friends were by her side cheering her on to the finish line. Shortly after that in December 2021, Ashley’s cancer returned. Ashley fought again and again had her friends by her side and I had the mamas with me. Ashley earned her angel wings and was called home to God on June 6, 2022. Her memory, legacy, and smile keep me passionate about helping caregivers like me, as they walk this same journey. Mama Bears Fighting Childhood Cancer was born out of a strong friendship and very special warrior children. This non-profit is so much more than a corporation. It’s family coming together to walk side by side through the darkest days.

Amanda Kimble, MS Psychology

Secretary, and Director of Public Relations

On August 18, 2021, my life came to a screeching halt. After a long month of unexplained illness, we were told that our precious son Ezekiel had T-Cell Lymphoblastic Leukemia. So many frightening thoughts raced through my head.  How is this real life?  How can I stop this? Is he going to be okay? It is one of the loneliest feelings in the world to feel that helpless as a parent.  It is terrifying and it feels impossible at times, but it's our job and honor to walk beside them through this journey. What followed was many months of complications and hospitalizations.  One day in early October, our sweet “Kaiser resort” neighbor Sara, came by with some Halloween decor lights and mini pumpkins, and thus began a beautiful friendship.  Four out of five of the MBFCC board members were inpatient together for several weeks, and during that short time, we forged such a sacred bond together, and with another amazing mama from the Bay Area, Jill. We dug deep into each other’s stories and we were an instant family who understood each other without saying a word. The other kiddos met and encouraged Ezekiel by sitting and chatting with him, and suddenly, it wasn’t as scary. Suddenly we had a community in this scary place.  Hospital stays and clinic days weren’t as bad because we could always ask who else was going to be there. As we have grown, these people have been there for me 24 hours a day, and trust me when I say it's important to have someone to support you at 2 am.  It’s such a blessing to have this precious organization to pour all of our love, compassion, and understanding of this journey into, and to share the joy of this bond with others who have found their family on this same journey. Words can never express how much these other moms and dads have meant to me as a mother. We have laughed together, cried together, and everything in between. They have carried me so that I can carry my son. We are truly IN IT together.

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Jill Putnam, R.N. BSN 

Director of Clinical Support 

On January 10, 2021, what was anticipated to be a beautiful hike with my son, Brady (14 years old), turned into a trip to the emergency room and a day that would forever change our lives. Brady was diagnosed with Acute Lymphocytic Leukemia – pre-B Cell. I am a Registered Nurse with critical care background for over 22 years and all my training did not prepare me emotionally, as a mom, on how to prepare for the journey that was put in front of us.  One month after Brady’s diagnosis, I connected with Debi Mitchell and learned of her son’s story.  I was then blessed to meet Sara, Amanda, and Andrea, all their amazing kids.  We discovered that strength truly came in numbers.  Strength is what we gave each other.  New friends added hope to my journey with Brady, as I watched them traverse the childhood cancer journey with their own kids.  I was not alone. There were other moms, just like me, fighting like hell to see their kids battle through their own storms. We WERE living what “Mama Bears Fighting Childhood Cancer” represents.  MBFCC and all of the families included giving others HOPE and ENCOURAGEMENT as we join forces and fight for the lives of ALL kids that have childhood cancer. 

Welcome to Our Team

Carmen Castillo- Frazier

Director of Bilingual Community Support

I am honored to share my heart with all of you, who are also braving the journey of a lifetime and helping provide community support to Spanish-speaking families.

Becoming a mother was a goal that I put aside until “I was ready”. Our bundle of joy was born in September 2021. He was perfect! But life had other plans for us. Our three-month-old baby boy was diagnosed with Acute Myeloid Leukemia, and the hospital soon became our home for six months. We couldn't even understand what leukemia was, let alone pronounce the complex medical terms around us. In the blink of an eye, we left behind our family, business, home renovation, three beloved dogs, and “our old life.” The fog in our minds was impenetrable; it was incredibly difficult to comprehend the necessity of subjecting our baby boy to chemotherapy. We spent countless nights at the hospital, which we called “The Kaiser Resort.”  One day, I was handed a piece of paper with a phone number with the name Debi from our nurse who said, “This mom is here and would love to connect with you as she has a child with cancer too.” With a bit of hesitation, I called and immoderately felt a connection with another mom. She got it! She made me feel comfortable to share about my baby boy and our family. My husband also reached out and found himself connected with a group of dads who shared their stories with him. The next day, we had a mini fridge, a Roku, and a sound bar that we learned made our stay more comfortable. Little by little, we adapted to our new life in the hospital, and our connections with other families on the pediatric oncology floor transformed our journey. They called themselves the “Mama Bears,” and we had our own text message group. Finally, we were not alone on this journey. We looked forward to the familiar faces and the comforting hugs from Mama Bear Sara. Sometimes, we even got to interact with other warriors. Our hospital stays became less daunting, and I learned from the wisdom to give support and receive support from warrior moms who were traveling this road. The support we received from this group meant the world to me and my family. I am eternally grateful, and it is with this gratitude that my family and I wish to share hope with all of you. Our little man, Ryan, completed his treatment on June 28, 2022, and he is now growing, thriving, and celebrating his second birthday. Let our story be a testament to the strength of a Mama Bear, and may it also serve as hope to you.

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Our Vision

Provide a safe environment for parents of childhood cancer to share their worry, stress, anxiety, fears, happiness, accomplishments, and everyday life struggles during a child’s cancer
journey.

Our Mission

Empower parents through immediate and ongoing support as a community to navigate and advocate through their child’s cancer treatment and provide survival care packages to parents.

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