An Orlando mom started Kids Beating Cancer – How to Support Local Families

Margaret Guedes has lived in the Orlando area since high school, but after her son, John, died of cancer as a young child more than 30 years ago, the mom of four decided to work for change in her community.

Today, Guedes is the founder and chief executive officer of Kids Beating Cancer, a non-profit organization based in Orlando that funds pediatric cancer research, works to keep families from having to travel outside of Orlando to receive treatment, supports families throughout their cancer journey, and funds innovative cancer treatments.

Margaret Guedes founder and CEO delivering food to hospital
Margaret Guedes founder and CEO delivering food to hospital

“When my son was diagnosed and we couldn’t be treated in Orlando and we had to go to Seattle to get treatment and then we had to go back to Seattle when he relapsed — when he died, it was my passion to change things and to advocate with the hospitals,” Guedes told Orlando Parenting at a fundraiser event for the charity. “It took a while, but we now have very strong pediatric oncology at all of our children’s hospitals. Children now don’t have to travel now to get care.”

Margaret Guedes

“Our passion is — as it was when I started Kids Beating Cancer — to make sure every child gets access to the right care at home,” she adds. “There are children and families right here in our community who, regardless of what doctor or hospital they go to, are all fighting the same journey. We need more research to improve treatments and bring them to the kids’ bedsides and we need to support the families.”

Margaret Guedes

How Kids Beating Cancer helps the Orlando community

There are four main areas of support Kids Beating Cancer has been working to provide to Orlando families since its start in 1992.

Pantry set up in hospital for families Image credit Kids Beating Cancer

In addition to funding pediatric cancer research and providing funds to bring cancer treatments previously not offered in Florida to Orlando, the organization funded the establishment of the first pediatric transplant center in Central Florida, the Kids Beating Cancer Pediatric Transplant Center at AdventHealth for Children, so families would not need to travel for potentially life-saving treatments.

The organization helps support children with cancer and their families in a variety of ways, including providing kids with their own version of the organization’s trademark stuffed teddy bear, Bunky, along with a soft blanket, upon receiving a cancer diagnosis.

Example of themed rooms in hospitals provided by Kids Beating Cancer
Example of themed rooms in hospitals Image credit Kids Beating Cancer

It provides themed, decorated hospital rooms for kids undergoing cancer treatment, makes sure families staying in Orlando hospitals have meals and pantry items, gives kids discharged from hospitals after transplant surgeries backpacks of goodies and necessities, and much more. 

“We believe in providing support to families regardless of where they are — inside of the hospital or out of the hospital — because we know how difficult it is,” Sam Azar, chief operating officer and vice president of research at Kids Beating Cancer told Orlando Parenting at the fundraiser, which took place in early summer at newly-opened Norman’s restaurant, located in Dellagio Town Center and helmed by celebrity chef Norman Van Aken.

At the event, Van Aken was joined by chefs Dean Fearing and Ming Tsai, each of which performed cooking demonstrations to benefit Kids Beating Cancer. For Van Aken, Kids Beating Cancer’s mission has special meaning. 

“Cancer hits almost every family,” he told Orlando Parenting at the event. “This year and part of last it came in the form of leukemia to my dear friend and chef Dean Fearing’s son. Through the selflessness of key people, Campbell was saved by a bone marrow transplant — a modern miracle.”

“But the daunting task for the majority [of people with cancer] remains,” he added. “That is why we need to fight for them every chance we get.”

Chef Norman Van Aken

How to help support Kids Beating Cancer’s mission

Azar says there’s lots of ways for Orlando families to support Kids Beating Cancer’s work in their community, from volunteering their time to making financial donations.

Group photo of four kids in jeans and wearing Kids Beating Cancer logo t-shirts
Kids Beating Cancer Group Image credit Kids Beating Cancer

The organization will also hold a Hats and Heroes Ball in October, a black-tie-optional fundraising gala that will take place at the Waldorf Astoria Orlando. 

There’s another sweet way to get involved that Azar hopes will get kids excited about helping in their communities. “We have a new thing coming called Cookies for a Cure where kids can set up a stand and sell Rice Krispies Treats and chocolate chip cookies and raise money for children who have been affected by cancer.”

“We’d love for them to get involved with that — because they’re raising money for other children like them, who need their support.”

Azar says Cookies for a Cure recently launched. Information is available on the Kids Beating Cancer website.

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Terri Peters