HILMAR — Kaiden Pacheco just finished second grade, but shes already captured the collective heart of the close-knit Hilmar community through the way shes battling Stage 4 rhabdomyosarcoma.
And now, Kaidens cause has struck a chord that has moved throughout the Modesto Nuts clubhouse, thanks to the activism of eighth-grader Erin Benning.
When Benning heard about the cancer threatening the life of Pacheco, she went to work organizing a fund-raising effort in the town, which so far has raised more than $11,000 to help offset the costs related to Kaidens treatment.
The Bennings also are long-time baseball and Nuts fans, and this summer are the host family for first baseman Jordan Ribera.
Ribera, watching what his host sister was busy doing in addition to preparing for her own eighth-grade graduation, quickly became in awe of what Erin Benning was able to accomplish in such a short time.
This is an eighth-grade girl who is pretty quiet, but shes gone above and beyond just because she cares about other people, Ribera said.
I decided my duty was to share that with the guys in this clubhouse. Were fortunate to be playing this game, and to give back is the least we can do. I brought it up to the guys and set a goal early of maybe getting about a couple hundred dollars. We autographed a bat, signed a few balls as a team and Coach (Dave) Burba signed balls that will be auctioned off. The next thing I know guys are dishing out money and we have $1,150.
Rhabdomyosarcoma is a malignant tumor that attacks muscles. Stephanie Pacheco, Kaidens mother, said Saturday that her daughter developed a fever following a March 27 visit to the dentist, and the cancer was discovered April 9. Pacheco said the tumor is attached to Kaidens liver and has worked through her diaphragm, but has shrunk to half its original size through the chemotherapy.
Once the tumor is reduced further and stabilizes, surgery to remove it would be possible, she said.
And you have to think that no matter the outcome, both Erin Benning and Kaiden Pacheco both have suddenly found 25 new big brothers for life.
I just saw this as a good opportunity for us to give back and its good for the Nuts to put the baseball aspect of this aside, Ribera said. We dont make anything playing baseball, but at the end of the day all of this is for a better cause. Its for a little girl who has to deal with so much, like going through chemo every week and going to Valley Childrens Hospital (Madera) every week.
Im proud of the guys for stepping up. I was shocked to see how much the guys gave and I know their families will appreciate it. Its quite humbling to me that the guys in here took this cause to heart.
The best moment of this story for all involved will come in a few months. But Ribera had goose bumps Saturday morning when he was able to show Erin Benning what the team had kicked-in.
Just this morning I was able to show Erin what had been collected as a team and it was special to see the look on Erins face after all the work that shes put in. This is a huge deal for an eighth-grader to take on this responsibility and Im so proud of her.
A special fund-raising event for Kaiden Pacheco will take place Monday at 6 p.m. at Pizza Plus, 19935 American Ave., in Hilmar. A fund for Kaiden has been set up through Farmers and Merchants Bank.