TAMP, FL. – On Sunday, dozens of boats took to the waterways outside Tampa General Hospital to bring a little joy to children battling cancer and the medical professionals who care for them.
September is the month to prevent cancer in children. Every day, an estimated 47 children in the US learn that they have cancer, a diagnosis that often drastically changes a child’s life. Many pediatric cancer patients are unable to attend school or play with friends due to the risk of infection.
Plant High School sophomore Jake Klopfenstein has seen firsthand how lonely life can get for these kids. After losing a friend to pediatric Ewing sarcoma, he started the nonprofit Anglers for Relief in an effort to connect with young cancer patients.
“Fishing is my passion. As soon as I get on the boat, I forget everything. That’s how I got over Ryan’s death,” said Klopfenstein, whose friend Ryan Baker died in 2014 after an 18-month battle with cancer. .
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Klopfenstein now shares his love for fish with other childhood cancer patients. He donates “dry-fishing kits” and teaches children to fish from their hospital beds or at home.
Klopfenstein says he spends hours with patients teaching them to tie knots, cast and identify different types of fish. When he is healthy enough, he organizes fishing trips for children and their families.
“I want to make these kids feel like they don’t have cancer, even if it’s just for an hour or two,” explains Klopfenstein.
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But COVID-19 has made it even harder for the children he wants to help. The pandemic has canceled numerous support programs, halted visits and left many immunocompromised children feeling more isolated than ever.
Klopfenstein says he is finding new ways to adapt and carry on with his mission. He brings patients and their families able on smaller, socially distancing outings. He also partners with the 1Voice Foundation, which provides services and programs to pediatric cancer patients in the Bay Area, funds a pediatric cancer research lab, and launched the first school for children with cancer this spring.
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“We normally take children to the Gasparilla Parade, but it was canceled this year,” said Mary Ann Massolio, executive director of the 1Voice Foundation. “So we thought why not do a flotilla and that would be a way of social distancing.”
Dozens of families with childhood cancer patients sailed with a fleet of smaller boats to Tampa General Hospital aboard the Lost Pearl Pirate Ship.
“I just want them to forget about it and feel a lot better than for themselves and not see themselves as a cancer patient, but see themselves as a normal kid having fun on the water,” Klopfenstein said.
CLUTCH: For more information about the 1Voice Foundation, visit https://1voicefoundation.org/.
CLUTCH: For more information about Angling for Relief, visit https://www.anglingforrelief.org/.
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