Teddy Bear Cancer Foundation celebrates 15 years

Teddy Bear Cancer Foundation celebrates 15 years

By Jennifer Goddard Combs

For the Chapman family of Ojai, 2002 was a year of trials.

At 9 years old, Colby Chapman battled leukemia with the support of his family and the Teddy Bear Cancer Foundation.
Photo contributed

The youngest of the family’s three children, Colby, then 9 years old, was battling leukemia. His mom, Tracy, had quit her job in the health care industry to live with him at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles as he endured treatments for nearly half the year.

Money was extremely tight. As the year wore on, Tracy, a single mom, worried not just about her young son’s health, but also about meeting her family’s basic needs.

For Nikki Katz, 2002 was also a watershed year. Her dear friend’s godson had been diagnosed with pediatric cancer.

“It was devastating, and I felt helpless,” Katz said in a recent interview, “and I wanted to help.”

With that simple motivation, Katz founded Teddy Bear Cancer Foundation, a nonprofit organization dedicated to empowering families that have a child, up to 21 years old, with cancer by providing them financial, emotional and educational support programs.

Katz was in the process of getting the foundation’s 501(c)3 nonprofit designation when, at a coffee shop one day in Ojai, she saw a cash jar at the counter seeking help for young Colby and his family, who were well loved in their tight-knit community.

That timely encounter led to Colby’s family becoming the very first recipient of help from the Teddy Bear Cancer Foundation, which has gone on to help hundreds of children with cancer and their families in Ventura, Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo counties.

The thousands of dollars the foundation provided to Colby and his family in 2002 allowed them to pay numerous bills and have a Christmas celebration.

Teddy Bear Cancer Foundation Founder Nikki Katz with Colby Chapman and his fiancé Katie and their baby girl Veda.
Photo contributed

Today, Colby Chapman is a strapping 24-year-old working as a warehouse administrator in Carpinteria and living in Ojai with his fiancée, Katie, and their baby girl, Veda.

His memories of the long months spent lying in a hospital bed, battling a disease he wasn’t old enough to fully comprehend, have now faded. What Colby most remembers from back then is the love of Katz and everyone at Teddy Bear Cancer Foundation, and their genuine desire to help him and his family.

“It’s definitely shaped who I am today,” Colby said.

“Not only did I feel better about getting better and not weird about having a disease, but it made me feel like I was part of a community. Even still, I still feel like a part of the community … I’ve never lost that, and I’ll be grateful forever,” he said.

His mom Tracy can also look back now on that trying time with a sense of gratitude.

“Even after he was no longer sick, Nikki always kept Colby involved in the foundation’s events. It made it like a game for him,” Tracy said. “July marks the anniversary of his diagnosis, so that’s always a sentimental month for us, but honestly, we also remember the laughter and the fun of that time.”

In the 15 years since Nikki Katz founded Teddy Bear Cancer Foundation, it has provided more than $1.7 million in financial assistance. Over the years, thousands of community members have come together to help through the organization. This year, the foundation is celebrating its 15th anniversary with a Gold Ribbon Luncheon in October.

“The foundation is way bigger than I ever thought it would be. I never thought in my wildest dreams it would get this big. I’m very proud of what it’s become in its first 15 years,” Katz said.

For more information about the Teddy Bear Cancer Foundation, including ways to get involved, contact Executive Director Lindsey Leonard at lindsey@teddybearcancerfoundation.org or 805-563-4740.