“This year will be C.J.’s golden birthday,” says Petaluma’s Heather Banaszek, referencing her son C.J. Banaszek, who passed away from complications of leukemia in 2014, at the age of 13. “He would be 17 years old,” Banaszek notes, “and we want to celebrate his birthday by giving hope to other families battling childhood cancer.”
Honoring C.J.’s birthday - and his legacy as a ‘cancer hero’ - by helping to find a cure for childhood cancers, has become a bit of a Petaluma tradition.
On Oct. 22, in celebration of C.J.’s life, many of his friends, supporters and the wider Petaluma community, will once again mark the milestone with a festive fundraising dinner and a bowling tournament pointedly dubbed “Striking Out Childhood Cancer.”
It will be the third consecutive year for the annual event, taking place at AMF Boulevard Lanes, immediately followed by a gala party — including catered dinner, cocktails and a grand auction — at the Petaluma Veterans Memorial Building.
Last year’s event collected over $100,000 for Alex’s Lemonade Stand Foundation, a nationally-focused charity for which Heather Banzcek serves as Community Outreach Specialist. The non-profit raises funds to support the development of cutting edge medical research, seeking new treatments and cures for leukemia and other childhood cancers. The organization also works to educate the public and build awareness of such illnesses, which annually claim the lives of thousands of children in the U.S. In fact, according to Banaszek, childhood cancers are currently the leading cause of death in kids under the age of 15.
“Government funding for childhood cancer research is dwindling,” says Banaszek, emphasizing the need for private financial support in developing new cures and treatments that do not carry the toxic side-effects of many current treatment methods. C.L. who was diagnosed with myelogenous leukemia at age 11, after developing a nosebleed that would not stop, underwent a bone marrow transplant, but relapsed two months later. More transplants followed, and a whopping 81/2-month long residency in the hospital, during which C.J. impressed and inspired the staff with his unfailing sense of humor and positive attitude.
According to Banaszek, he eventually beat the leukemia that has sidelined him for so long, only to contract a deadly fungal infection, from which he eventually passed away. During his long battle, friends and family all over Petaluma showed their support with stickers proclaiming “C.J. Strong,” and by wearing orange, C.J.’s favorite color. Banascek now says it was her son’s tireless support of other kids with cancer that led her to start working with Alex’s Lemonade Stand, and eventually to create the first “Striking Out Childhood Cancer,” in support of the organization.
If this year is like past tournaments, hundreds of attendees will be wearing orange in honor of C.J. During the tournament, center pins will be orange as well, and whenever a bowler gets a strike, they will win a commemorative pin.
According to Banaszek, only a few lanes are left for bowlers, but supporters are welcome to attend and cheer on the participants, and then attend the party afterwards.
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STRIKING OUT CHILDHOOD CANCER
What: A benefit for Alex’s Lemonade Stand
When: Sunday, Oct. 22. Tournament 1 p.m.-3 p.m.; Party with cocktails, dinner, and auctions 3 p.m.-7 p.m.
Where: Tournament takes place at AMF Boulevard Lanes, 1100 Petaluma Blvd. S; Party follows at Petaluma Veterans Memorial Building, 1094 Petaluma Blvd. S.
Cost: Individual bowler and dinner/auction $125, Individual dinner/auction only $100; Children 16 and under bowling only $25.
Information and registration: Alexslemonade.org