“When I was going through treatment, it was a really rough time mentally,” said Andrew Perez, explaining why he has chosen to make such a significant gift. “They helped me get out of that dark spot. I can’t ever fully repay them — but I’ll try my best.”
Andrew now hopes that the community will rally to turn his $5,000 gift into $50,000 by supporting a special drive for Jacob’s Heart this #GivingTuesday, November 27.
For the past 20 years, Jacobs Heart has focused on addressing the unique struggles faced by children with cancer, working to improve the quality of life for these youngsters and their families.
Andrew was diagnosed with osteosarcoma, an aggressive bone cancer, in his left tibia in April of last year. He required treatment multiple times a week for eight months at Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital Stanford, a 90-minute drive each way from his home in rural Aromas, California.
Shortly after he began treatment, his mother, Tammy, reached out to Jacob’s Heart. The organization immediately offered practical financial help with gas cards and groceries. They had a peer group of teens undergoing treatment that Andrew joined. They also sponsored fun activities that allow kids to be kids during their fight – including a trip to an amusement park that Andrew went on with his younger sister. It was a time they could enjoy together and take a break from his diagnosis, he said.
Jacob’s Heart also introduced Andrew to Mariela, a counselor who met with him in his home. Mariela survived cancer herself as a teenager, relapsing three times, and finally was eligible for a life-saving stem cell transplant. Andrew described Mariela as someone he could talk with candidly about his feelings – the anger, depression, and fear that come with battling a life-threatening disease – without worrying that he was burdening his family or friends. He figured, “If Mariela can go through this, so can I.”
“Jacob’s Heart was a good place for healing,” he said. “They know what you are going through, and they can really empathize, so you can be really honest.”
For the past five years, Andrew has been active raising livestock through his 4-H club. Primarily he has raised pigs, showing and auctioning them off at local fairs in the region, with the goal of saving money for college. After his diagnosis, Andrew switched to lambs; his doctors were concerned that any injury from raising a 250-pound pig might endanger his chances of keeping his leg.
The last pig he sold was after his diagnosis. Because he was in the middle of his cancer treatments, a friend showed Andrew’s pig at the King City Fair on his behalf. When word got out about the pig’s owner and his diagnosis, the pig became more than livestock — it quickly turned into a mini-fundraiser for Andrew. A bidding frenzy began as the community rallied for the Perez family, and the pig wound up selling for $26,000, more than 10 times the normal price at an auction. “I was shocked,” remembered Andrew. “I had no idea that was going to happen.”
As a result of that show-stopping pig and other auctions, Andrew had already saved $40,000 towards his college degree. (He plans to attend Stanford – a place he has become very familiar with since his diagnosis – and, because of his own experiences, he has switched his career focus from anesthesiology to pediatric oncology nursing.)
He talked it over with his mother and they decided that for the next two fairs, he’d donate part or all of his auction proceeds to the nonprofit. This year’s King City fair netted $2,500, while the auction in Santa Cruz brought in another $3,000.
“I remember hearing that it usually costs $1,000 for Jacob’s Heart to help a family,” he said. “If my donation helps five families pay their bills, that would be awesome.”
Lori Butterworth, founder and executive director of Jacob’s Heart, said she was moved by Andrew’s generosity. “He’s an amazing kid with a bright future ahead of him,” she said. “There are so many people who say, ‘If I had more money, I’d give to charity.’ This story shows that it’s not about how much we have but how much we give. It really resonates with me that he looked at what he had raised for college, said ‘this is enough,’ and turned his efforts to Jacob’s Heart as a token of his gratitude for the love and support we gave him.”
Recently, Andrew has been speaking at events about what it is like to be a teen with cancer and his gratitude for Jacob’s Heart. He wants other donors to join him and match his efforts for Jacob’s Heart. He hopes the community will turn is $5,000 into $50,000 so other families can receive gas cards, groceries and counseling – things that Jacob’s Heart provided that were so essential during his treatment.
“Imagine a world where we all lived like Andrew,” said Butterworth. “He is raising the bar on philanthropy through his boundless gratitude and generosity.”
Contributions to the special fundraising drive can be made by clicking here, or by sending a check to Jacob’s Heart Children’s Cancer Support Services, 680 West Beach Street, Watsonville, CA 95076.
For more information about Jacob’s Heart, visit jacobsheart.org or call 831-724-9100.