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Zach's Toy Chest fights pediatric cancer with toys

Holly Schwab, the Cary mom of one, started Zach's Toy Chest after her son was diagnosed with cancer.

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Sarah Lindenfeld Hall

A case of the sniffles. That's about all it seemed that Zach Schwab had when his parents took him to the doctor several years ago.

But instead of a prescription for rest and fluids, subsequent tests found that Zach, who was just 10 months old at the time, had a form of childhood cancer called neuroblastoma. The solid tumor cancer begins in the nerve tissue of the neck, chest, abdomen or pelvis and typically affects children under age 5.

Zach went through a difficult surgery and eventually three rounds of chemotherapy at the Valvano Day Hospital at Duke Children's Hospital & Health Center. And that's where Zach's mom, Holly Schwab, got the idea for Zach's Toy Chest.

Children receive outpatient treatment at the hospital. And Schwab noticed that there weren't many toys for the kids. A new toy, she knew, could make a tough day a little bit easier for both kids and parents. And in some cases, children were getting difficult treatments on their birthday or holidays.

"We realized there was a need and people wanted to help," Schwab tells me. "We've delivered over 6,000 toys to Duke over the last three holidays."

I learned about the Schwab family's story when I featured patient stories from Duke Children's during Mix 101.5 WRAL-FM's annual Radiothon for Duke Children's in February. You can read that earlier post by clicking here.

But I thought I'd update you on what the group has been up to recently. Schwab has been busy.

The nonprofit has several events coming up.

Schwab is running a raffle to raise money for the group. Tickets are $1 each. First prize is a $300 gas card; second prize is a handmade, solid wood bench; and third prize is dinner for two at Chili's.

On May 21, she'll be at the Whole Foods in Cary from noon to 5 p.m. as part of the store's Spring Beer Fest. And on June 4 and June 5 at the Walmart in Apex, she'll be selling and taking orders for T-shirts, selling raffle tickets and taking donations. Click here for more details on these and other events.

And she traveled to Washington, D.C., with Zach last month to ask legislators for more funding for pediatric cancer research.

"Overall, the response was good from Capitol Hill," she told me by email. "We were able to introduce the Creating Hope Act, which encourages drug development for pediatric cancers and other rare pediatric diseases. This legislation has bipartisan support and does not require an appropriation (tax payer money). We were also able to bring some awareness to childhood cancer. I didn't know this information before Zach was diagnosed so how would Congress know? We told them - now they know."

But the best news of all is that Zach, now 4, has been cancer free for more than 2.5 years. He's a happy, healthy and active little boy.

To learn more about Zach's Toy Chest, watch the video and check out the group on the web. Click to find links for the website, Facebook page and Twitter.

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