Tuesday, November 30, 2021     Volume: 22, Issue: 39

Santa Maria Sun / School Scene

The following article was posted on October 3rd, 2018, in the Santa Maria Sun - Volume 19, Issue 31 [ Submit a Story ]
The following articles were printed from Santa Maria Sun [santamariasun.com] - Volume 19, Issue 31

Local high schooler brings awareness to childhood cancer

By Kasey Bubnash

Garhett Carter was only 2 years old when he was diagnosed with stage 4 neuroblastoma, a rare form of cancer that most commonly affects the adrenal glands in young children. He was only 4 when the disease killed him in 2012.

The months leading to Garhett's death were filled with long hospital visits, astronomically expensive rounds of chemotherapy, piling bills, and all-out battles with insurance companies. But there were happy memories, too.

Calista Carter, Garhett's older sister, still remembers the day early on in Garhett's treatment when he got sick on one of his hospital blankets. A nurse had to dispose of it, but she came back with another that had been donated by the Teddy Bear Cancer Foundation, a Santa Barbara-based organization that provides financial and emotional support to Central Coast families impacted by childhood cancer.

Inspired by her little brother’s struggle with childhood cancer, Calista Carter, 16, started making and donating blankets to Teddy Bear Cancer Foundation when she was 13.

The blanket was cute. It had the alphabet on it, it was warm, soft, and best of all, the nurse said it was Garhett's to keep. He loved it, Calista said, and it still comforts the family today. 

"It was something that after he passed away we still had," Calista, now 16, said. "It's something we can still pull out and look at and touch." 

The experience inspired Calista to start making blankets of her own when she was 13. 

It started small–just Calista and her best friend, making blankets at home after school that they could donate to Teddy Bear. Then her friend suggested they expand. They partnered with a home economics teacher who taught at Orcutt and Lakeview junior high schools, Calista said, and agreed to develop a program in which students could learn to sew blankets that, when finished, would be donated to pediatric cancer patients. 

The class was surprisingly popular, Calista said, and she liked seeing kids learn a skill while simultaneously helping kids in need. Kids like her little brother. 

"I just liked seeing how many people got involved and cared at that young age," Calista said. 

The program continued even after Calista moved on to Orcutt Academy High School, and in 2016 she applied for and won a $1,000 grant from Youth Making Change to continue its funding. 

It had a good run, but Nicci Carter, Calista's mom, said the program ended last school year after the home ec teacher leading it retired. The new home ec teacher is more focused on culinary arts, Nicci said, and she and Calista donated their last blankets to the foundation over the summer. Junior high school students made and donated more than 100 blankets throughout the program's life. 

Nicci said they'd like to start something again. Still, Calista is on course to graduate a year early, and she'll likely develop a similar program and lead various fundraisers for childhood cancer patients wherever she goes to college. Calista and her two surviving brothers are always working to raise awareness about the ugly realities of pediatric cancer, Nicci said. 

"My husband and I both have been so amazed," Nicci said. "The way that they've taken it and chosen to honor their brother instead of letting it destroy them, it just amazes me." 

Throughout September, Childhood Cancer Awareness Month, Nicci said her family helped with Teddy Bear Cancer Foundation's Gold Ribbon Campaign.

The campaign put a spotlight on the facts: Forty-three children are diagnosed with cancer in the U.S. each day, according to statistics collected by the National Pediatric Cancer Foundation, and cancer is the leading cause of death by disease among the nation's kids. Only 4 percent of government cancer research funding goes toward studying pediatric cancer, and as a result, fewer than 10 drugs have been developed to treat cancer in children since 1980. 

Something has to change, Nicci said.

"Our kids are worth more than 4 percent," she said. 

Teddy Bear Cancer Foundation is gearing up for the holiday season, which Nicci said can be an especially tough time for families facing cancer. To volunteer or donate, visit teddybearcancerfoundation.org and/or call (805) 962-7466. 

Staff Writer Kasey Bubnash writes School Scene each week. Information can be sent to the Sun via mail, fax, or email at mail@santamariasun.com. 

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