San Diego family advocates for brain cancer research while caring for their daughter
San Diego parents Shawn and Mariel Mahoney, are doing all they can to help save their 7-year-old daughter Layla, diagnosed with a rare, aggressive brain cancer. The diagnosis, when they got it, was extreme and shocking.
“The tumor was so severe, doctors said it looked like a bomb went off in her head,” Shawn explains. With that devastating news in June of 2021, Shawn quit his job in marketing and shelved his dreams of becoming an entrepreneur because he needed to devote all his time to help his daughter.
Layla’s fighting hard too. The second grader has had three brain surgeries, three rounds of chemotherapy and 33 rounds of proton radiation, but multiple areas of her brain still have tumors. In a desperate search for options, Layla’s parents investigated multiple clinical trial opportunities for Layla. They found one in Atlanta, Georgia.
Today Layla flies across the country once a month to participate in the immunotherapy trial at Children’s Hospital in Atlanta. The family has medical insurance, but like many others fighting cancer, they are dealing with annual medical bills in the five-figure range… and with only one parent working, that’s well beyond what they can afford.
The Mahoneys say their financial burden was lifted a bit when a hospital social worker referred them to Lazarex Cancer Foundation. Lazarex reimburses the Mahoneys $1,500 in airfare and hotel costs each month so Layla can get her treatment.
Shawn says that’s all that matters. “We will do whatever it takes to get her what she needs,” he says – adding that he’s also advocating for more attention and funds to go to childhood cancer now that he’s aware of the incredible financial burden that comes with such a diagnosis.
“It shouldn’t be this hard,” Shawn says.
Frustrated that only 4% of federal funding is devoted to pediatric cancer – Shawn and Mariel are fundraising to drive more research. They’ve also gathered a group of 40 parents willing to send their children’s brain tissues en masse to a willing researcher. And they’re doing everything they can to raise awareness.
Shawn is now using his talents as a marketer to bring attention to the battle to save his daughter. He launched a superhero comic strip called the “Cancer Revengers”, created in the likeness of the doctors and medical researchers from the five Children’s Hospitals in the US and Europe helping to save Layla.
“It shouldn’t cost families six figures, their jobs – in some cases everything financially – to save their child’s life,” he says.
Shawn says he is grateful to Lazarex for helping to offset the burden of traveling to Georgia for Layla’s clinical trial treatment. Treatment, he tells us, is shrinking her tumor: Layla’s latest scan shows her largest tumor has shrunk by 40%.