Reno family shares child’s cancer journey to raise more awareness

September is Childhood Cancer Awareness Month
Published: Sep. 23, 2022 at 12:01 AM PDT
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RENO, Nev. (KOLO) - September is Childhood Cancer Awareness Month. The average age of a child diagnosed with cancer is eight years old, according to the American Childhood Cancer Organization (ACCO).

The goal of this month is to help raise funds for research and treatment.

Getting a cancer diagnosis is not something anyone is prepared for, especially the parents of then-three-year-old Amelia.

In the Spring of 2020, her parents Mike and Tara Bolenbaker called the family pediatrician, after noticing their daughter Amelia was experiencing severe knee pain.

“She woke up three different times, over like three weeks with a low-grade fever like a 101 and then no other symptoms,” said Tara. “Like about after a month everything shut down here in town for COVID so she wasn’t really out getting exposed to viruses.”

After some blood work, Amelia was diagnosed with B-cell Leukemia, a type of cancer that affects certain cells in the immune system.

“It can happen to anybody. I sat for months and told her ‘No, this is no big deal’,” said Mike. “Your whole world changes right in an instant, just like that.”

That time was extremely challenging for the family. Not only was this happening in the middle of a pandemic, which restricted hospital visitors, but Tara was weeks away from giving birth.

“It was just me in the hospital with her,” said Tara while trying to hold back tears. “So, I think that was the hardest part.”

“She (Amelia) was so strong, she’s never complained, she’s never been like, ‘Why me? I’m really proud of her,” said Mike.

Her strength spread to the whole family and together they pushed through the darkest moments.

“It was really sweet because all four boys shaved their heads and then we shaved Amelia’s head at the end, and it was such a cool way for them to show support for her, then show up on their distance learning classes with like their bald heads,” said Tara.

Amelia finished treatment in June of this year.

“Now we’re just kind of monitoring for long terms of the chemo,” said Tara.

The Bolenbakers say they couldn’t have done it without the help of medical staff and the Northern Nevada Children’s Cancer Foundation (NCCF).

“They helped, obviously with the medical bill but it’s get to enter almost like a community that you never knew before, meet families.”

According to the ACCO, early diagnosis of childhood cancer is often difficult and as of 2020, only six new drugs have been developed for childhood cancer.

The family of seven hopes their story can provide comfort to others and raise awareness.

According to their website, every year the NNCCF helps “Approximately 120 local children for needs such as medical, household, educational and travel expenses related to treatment. All programs and services are provided at no cost to the families, and there is not an income requirement to receive services.”

Northern Nevada families are encouraged to apply for assistance if the child is 0-25, has a confirmed cancer diagnosis, and is a resident of northern Nevada.

For more information or to donate, go to