After accidents, cancer is the second leading cause of death in children under 14 in the U.S., according to the American Cancer Society. An East Bay man has dedicated his life to raising money to find a cure, and he’s this week’s Jefferson Award winner.
Les Mahler himself is fighting an advanced stage of rare cancer. He’s making a difference among kids with cancer because one child inspired him.
Mahler was diagnosed with adenoid cystic carcinoma of the right tear gland. He was depressed at first, then got inspired by an 8-year-old survivor who never gave up on his goals.
“That made me realize, if he can do that while fighting cancer at his young age, I can do whatever I want,” Mahler recalled. “I’m not gonna stop living.”
In 2011, he started a community-based group, called “stompoutkidscancer” that’s generated thousands of dollars for UC Davis cancer research through fundraisers from grape stomping to butterfly releases.
He also wrote a children’s book, “A Hole in His Socks” and $5 from the sale of each copy goes to support cancer research.
Mahler also brightens the lives of young cancer patients. His book illustrator, Vera Lowdermilk, says Mahler surprised her granddaughter, a leukemia survivor, who loves ballet.
“He very kindly bought tickets for the Nutcracker one year, which was fantastic,” Lowdermilk said.
In addition, Mahler has arranged firefighter visits, given away tickets the Oakland A’s donate, funded birthday parties, and more. All while the cancer in his own body has spread to his lungs and brain.
Assemblywoman Catherine Baker, herself cancer survivor, is grateful for his sacrifice.
“It’s inspiring, uplifting to see the way he’s spending his time and energy as he fights this battle,” she said.
Fellow survivor Gina Coomber agrees,
“He’s heart,” she said simply. “He exemplifies having a heart.”
So for funding cancer research and bringing smiles to young patients, this week’s Jefferson Award in the Bay Area goes to Les Mahler.