Carmen George

Blankets for children with cancer warm the memories of a special friendship

During the last months of Anthony Arroyo’s life, one of his best friends, Michaela Williams, was dubbed an honorary family member by nurses at Valley Children’s Hospital.

Visiting hours need not apply for this compassionate 17-year-old, who was a regular at Anthony’s bedside. Their friendship, forged as kids, would be a bright light for him as he was treated for an oral cancer that eventually claimed his life.

Anthony died at age 16 on Feb. 13, 2015. Michaela placed a Teddy bear by his side, a Valentine’s gift she planned to give him the following day.

The image of a Teddy bear is now the logo and mascot of a group she created in his honor, Cuddles for Cancer. The Fresno girl and a number of volunteers made more than 160 colorful felt blankets that she gave to patients in the oncology unit at Valley Children’s on the one-year anniversary of Anthony’s death.

Michaela previously made a number of blankets as birthday presents, and got the idea to start making them for cancer patients after Anthony died. She hopes her blankets bring “a piece of home” to those in the hospital. Anthony’s mother, Juanita Arroyo, is sure the blankets warmed a lot of hearts, too.

“It gives them something else to think about besides the cancer,” Arroyo says. “It gives them something positive, that someone cares.”

Anthony, who would have turned 18 on Feb. 23, had a higher risk of developing cancer because he had fanconi anemia. The rare blood disorder required he have a bone marrow transplant at age 6. Despite his lifelong illness, family and friends say he was amazingly sunny and selfless.

“He was really witty, happy-go-lucky,” Michaela says. “He went through so much, but he was always positive. … He didn’t care about himself, he just wanted other people around him to be happy, no matter what.”

Anthony also helped others who are sick. He and his family founded Lighting the Path for a Cure to help those with fanconi anemia. They raised $17,000 during a fundraiser in October of 2014 at Buchanan High School. Anthony would have been a senior at the school this year. His mother says he loved choir and wanted to become a veterinarian.

Michaela, a straight-A student interested in becoming a representative for a pharmaceutical company, plans to continue doing something special with Cuddles for Cancer every year in memory of Anthony.

“She was always there for him,” says Anthony’s mother. “We were very honored that she was doing this in honor of him. They are just an amazing family and they’ve always been there for us.”

Carmen George: 559-441-6386, @CarmenGeorge

How to help

Those interested in helping support Cuddles for Cancer projects can donate online at gofundme.com/michaelacfc. More information is available on the group’s Facebook page or by calling 559-360-0258.

Anthony Arroyo’s family will host their next fundraiser, Anthony Arroyo Wild West Hoedown, for Lighting the Path for a Cure from 5 p.m. to midnight July 9 at the Clovis Rodeo Grounds. The Western-themed night will include a live band and DJ, dancing, dinner and a silent auction.

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