Ten-year-old throws benefit birthday party for special birthday buddy
BY MARK BOYLE — They had never met before, but when 10-year-old Maya Cruz-Hubbard heard three-year-old Michael Sipe’s story, she decided to throw an event the two families may never forget.
On Sept. 24, friends and neighbors came to show their support at a joint birthday party carnival-style fundraiser for Maya and Michael, with proceeds benefiting the Sipe family.
When asked how she wanted to celebrate her 10th birthday, Maya told her mother she wanted to do something special for Michael.
“I wanted it to be her decision,” Tina Cruz-Hubbard said. “She was adamant she wanted to do the fair.”
To 10-year-olds, a birthday is a big deal. It’s the one day of the year that is entirely their own. But Maya’s focus was on Michael, a child who should be playing with his favorite PAW Patrol figurines, but instead is spending days in cancer treatment.
In November 2015, Michael, then two years old, was diagnosed with stage four neuroblastoma, a rare form of cancer that can spread to the adrenal gland, neck, chest or spinal cord, according to the National Cancer Institute’s website.
Neuroblastoma has been brought to public attention recently, with five-year-old Leah Still, daughter of the Houston Texans’ Devon Still, and 13-year-old Talia Castellano’s appearances on “The Ellen DeGeneres Show.” Taylor Swift also released a charity single “Ronan” about a four-year-old boy’s battle with the cancer.
Despite its recent attention, neuroblastoma is still rare, accounting for only six percent of childhood cancers, according to the American Cancer Society website.
Cruz-Hubbard recognized the cancer immediately, when she learned Michael’s story through a February 2016 Hyattsville Life and Times article. She was gripped. Michael looked a lot like her son Khalil, she said.
Khalil Cruz-Hubbard, one of Tina’s triplets and younger brother to Maya, was diagnosed with neuroblastoma at 18 months.
“It’s a long fight,” Cruz-Hubbard said. “I don’t think you can understand it unless you’ve been in the middle of it.”
Life was challenging for the whole Cruz-Hubbard family. With their parents in the hospital with Khalil, Maya and her siblings were often in the care of other caregivers.
“Your world is upside down,” Cruz-Hubbard said.
The Cruz-Hubbards didn’t want that for Michael’s eight-year-old sister Aiyana.
“We want them to experience the love and caring the community can bring,” Cruz-Hubbard said. “No one should fight this beast alone.”
Today there is no evidence of disease in Khalil, who at six-and-a-half-years-old, has spent the past four years in remission.
“He’s a happy, smart, playful, engaged kid that gets to be a kid,” Cruz-Hubbard said. “To be free of regular treatment, which was a big part of our lives, was huge.”
While Khalil was in the hospital, friends asked how they could help Maya and her family, Cruz-Hubbard said. Now, Maya is paying it forward to a young boy, who happens to share her birthdate, which Tiffany Sipe, Michael’s mother, says must be a “divine” coincidence.
“It just felt like we were supposed to be connected to this family,” Cruz-Hubbard said.
With neighbors’ permission and help from her mother, Maya coordinated a neighborhood block party, complete with roller-blading, a magic show, and a pie-toss. Cruz-Hubbard even showed Maya how to create a spreadsheet to track the funds raised.
“She’s been the beneficiary of thoughtful people,” Cruz-Hubbard said, “so I think, in a way, we’re paying forward what was given to us, and I’m certainly proud she is being that thoughtful.”
On Sept. 24, the cul-de-sac of Carrollton Terrace was blocked off with orange cones. A magic show tent was set up. Grills were fired up with hot dogs. Bushes were decorated with friendly faces. “Team Michael” bracelets were ready to go. The sun came out, knocking the clouds away. And the party began.
While Michael was in the hospital, unable to attend, his mother Tiffany Sipe and sister Aiyana came out to see the community’s support. Friends, neighbors, even the Hyattsville Police Department and Volunteer Fire Department came out, complete with the police department humvee.
“I couldn’t believe it,” Sipe said. “It just blew my mind that a little girl could come up with an idea to help out so much with me and my family.”
Hyattsville has always been a strong community, said Sgt. Suzie Johnson.
“Look at the turnout,” Johnson said. “There are a lot of kind-hearted people who care about each other.”
Cruz-Hubbard said she is excited that Maya has experienced firsthand what it feels like to be giving.
“That girl’s got a big heart,” Johnson said.
When the time came for birthday cake, Cruz-Hubbard made it clear that Maya wanted everyone to sing to Michael, not her.
“For her, it’s not about her,” Cruz-Hubbard said.
But the gang couldn’t resist, singing to Michael and then to Maya, just before a pie-toss kept the night going.
To donate to Michael’s Cancer Support Squad, go to his GoFundMe page.