ENCINITAS — More than 1,000 locals came out to support 2-year-old Avery Lynn Hanel last Saturday at a fundraiser in her honor at American Legion Post 416.
Last year Avery was diagnosed with a rare type of cancer called Juvenile Mylomonocitis Leukemia (JMML).
The event was organized by Avery’s mom, Alexandrea Upton, and grandmother, Joan Hanel, as well as close friends Sandy Glashaw, Bria Flores, Dee McKenzie and Rosie Harrison who together became known as “Avery’s Angels.”
“The American Legion had the space and they wanted to host it,” Upton explained. “They said, ‘Let’s go for it!’”
Scott Clayton of On-Point Promotions recruited a lineup of nonstop entertainment from noon to midnight willing to work without pay in support of Team Avery. Performers included Nena Anderson, Burning Wave, Captain Kirk, Hilltop Ramblers, H2Old, Dwayne Lawson, Micky Maga, Graham Nancarrow, Dana Ralston and The Shakedown Daddies.
Money generated through raffle prizes and a silent auction brought the total to date close to $25,000 of the $30,000 goal. The largest moneymaker was three surfboards donated by Avery’s grandfather, surfboard shaper Gary Hanel, that brought in $2,500. Two were his signature GH Surfboards and a third was a Slingerland.
“The turnout was pretty awesome,” Hanel said. “It showed just how much the community will rally behind people. The place was packed and everybody was so upbeat.”
Avery was diagnosed with cancer in March 2012. It took eight more months to identify the form of cancer as JMML. In May she received a long-awaited stem cell umbilical cord transplant from a donor in Australia. Since the beginning of her ordeal, Avery has endured six bone marrow biopsies, removal of her spleen, more than 200 transfusions, chemotherapy and 39 days in the intensive care unit.
“Her mom and dad told her before treatment, ‘We know you are not having a good time, but you still have to be ‘Avery the Brave,’” Hanel explained.
Avery watched the party from inside a motorhome parked across the street from the American Legion where she was quarantined to prevent infection while she continues to recover.
“She pointed and said, ‘Look, Grandmother Joan. It’s my party! I am ‘Avery the Brave,’” Hanel said. “She just hangs in there and knows the routine. When she’s in the hospital and is asked to put her finger out so they can take her blood pressure, she may cry but she always remembers to say ‘thank you’ to the nurses.”
A retired math teacher from San Pasqual High School in Escondido, Hanel was surprised at what lengths people have gone to help.
“There have been those who know us just a little bit who drove from Escondido to drop off a check, then drove home,” he said.
Most of the money has gone for temporary housing for the parents during the months Avery was an inpatient at Rady Children’s Hospital, and gas for the round-trip commute from the family home in Carlsbad to the medical facility.
Four years ago Upton was manager of Starbucks in the Vons grocery store on El Camino Real when she met Peter Hanel who became a regular customer while he got his nerve to ask her out. Avery was born two years later. As they made arrangements for a wedding, they received the cancer diagnosis and their plans were put on hold.
“The disease is rare,” Upton said. “There has only been one other child in the past 15 years at Rady’s who’s had this. His mother is one of our nurses. Today, he’s 17 and has become very artistic and musical.”
Upton and her family were hit by a second tragedy on March 28 when her uncle, Michael Upton, was shot and killed by a neighbor at his home in Olivenhain.
“I was talking to him 10 minutes before he was killed,” she remembered. “I didn’t think I could take anymore. It seemed like this was the season for things to go wrong.”
Upton encourages the public to sign up for the National Marrow Donor Fund at bethematch.org so that others like Avery can be saved. To make a financial donation, visit gofundme.com/28b3kc. To follow Avery’s journey, visit averythebrave.org or Facebook page “Our Angel Avery Lynn.”