By Judy Carmack Bross
It all began with a boy named Bear.
A boy who loved to dress up on Halloween–his birthday–as a cowboy or a dinosaur, and when he was diagnosed with pediatric cancer and lost his hair, decided to be Yul Brynner in The King and I.
On October 22 the 10th annual Walk for the Bear will be held for the first time in glorious Busse Woods in Elk Grove Village, rain or shine. It celebrates Bear’s meaningful life and those of other children living with cancer. The one-mile walk for all ages in costume or not, and their pets on leashes, features trick or treating, face-painting, a bouncy house, a DJ and other “spooktacular’ activities along the way and lunch at the finish line.
Funds raised will benefit pediatric cancer research grants through Bear Discoveries; customized experiences through Bear Hugs, after-treatment counseling and Hope Education Scholarships.
Kathleen A. Casey founded the Bear Necessities Pediatric Cancer Foundation in 1992 after losing Bear to pediatric cancer at age 8 and a half, shortly after he wore his Yul Brynner costume. The organization evolves and grows, benefitting more and more children with cancer as it carries out its mission to eliminate pediatric cancer and to provide hope and support to those who are touched by it.
Bear Necessities has supported more than 7500 children and their families, serving both in-state and out-of-state children who are being treated at Illinois-area hospitals with pediatric oncology departments.
“His name was Barrett William Krupa but from the first I called him my little bear. He was a feisty but also filled with compassion, a very spiritual little guy who was in and out of the hospital beginning at age three,” Casey said. “Once when he was receiving treatment at UChicago Hospital he noticed a plaque on the back of a rocking chair and asked me what that was about. I said that a child who probably enjoyed being rocked in that chair had passed away and the parents wanted others to have that opportunity to be rocked. Bear said right away that he wanted to help other kids as well. Little Bear was my gift from God. Families who are dealing with this disease need more help.”
Angela Parial, a 12-year-old Chicagoan who has received support from and is an Ambassador of Bear Necessities, was diagnosed with a rare brain cancer, Medulloblastoma, in 2016. After surgery, radiation therapy and chemotherapy, she was declared cancer-free. Her father Andrew Parial says, “Angela is like Teflon, she lets things roll off of her and puts on a brave face. She loves the outdoors, hanging out with her older sister and everything Star Wars. She also likes to give back and make a difference, which she recently demonstrated as a great salesperson when selling teddy bears at the Bear Tie Ball.
“Having gone through chemotherapy myself I know how an adult feels at that time, I can’t imagine how it affects a little five year old, the age when Angela got cancer. Everyone has troubles but Bear Necessities does so much to lift a burden off patients and their families.”
“I make my job as an Ambassador to sell as many bears as I can at the Ball and I know that I am helping a kid every time,” Angela said. “On the walk I want to talk to people on the way and be encouraging.”
One of the loveliest parts of Bear Necessities are Bear Hugs, customized experiences that brighten the life of a child going through cancer. The Bear Hugs Program also provides immediate family support for financial burden and essential needs.
“These are not just buying gifts but often really fun things that the kids have always wanted to do, or we elaborate on experiences they are planning,” Casey said. “We put on an art show for one of our talented patients, another who wanted to be a movie star got to be in a movie, go to the premiere and received a chocolate Oscar.”
The Parial family at Notre Dame.
Angela Parial and her sister Adriana.
Angela told us that her Bear Hug was an easy choice. “My dad went to Notre Dame and I wanted to go to a football game there, see the locker room and the tunnel where the players run out onto the field. I even got to play on the field before the game.”
Angela’s mom Joanna Parial told us: “We heard about Bear Necessities soon after Angela was diagnosed but we were so overwhelmed that we didn’t look at the materials the first month. The Bear Hugs and other services really take your mind off things. It is a little sense of joy, a little hug and families know people are supporting them.”
The multi-foundation evolves as Casey and her team research opportunities to further help cancer patients and their families. “In 2022 we started granting once-a-year scholarship grants for either a patient or a sibling. Many patients have been so sick as they go through treatment that they aren’t able to excel in their studies as they might have and so perhaps might not be eligible to receive scholarships that might have come to them if they hadn’t had cancer,” Casey said.
For more information on fundraising opportunities, visit https://www.bearnecessities.org/events/. For more information on sponsorships, contact Courtney at email@example.com. Volunteer opportunities are also available.