PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — A diagnosis of cancer for a 2-year-old Delaware County girl turned into a 10-year journey and hundreds of thousands raised for childhood cancer.
Ans she says she’s not done yet.
For as long as 12-year-old Maya Rigler can remember, cancer and hospital visits have been part of her life.
“One of my first memories was watching Elmo in the hospital,” said Maya.
“The doctor found a lump in her stomach and said, ‘do you know what this is?’ So out of nowhere and unexpectedly, we were whisked away into the world of childhood cancer,” said Maya’s father, Peter Rigler.
Devastated but inspired by the story of Alex Scott, Maya and her family decided to try to raise money for other children with cancer. That would be the beginning of a life-long relationship with the Alex Scott Foundation and a life-long fight with cancer.
“Adults have this image that cancer is so sad and it is, part of it is, but they also have to think about the fight and hope through it – it’s not just ‘oh my God, you had cancer that’s so sad,’ you also have to think about the will to fight,” said Maya.
Little Maya did fight and she won — beating cancer. But then several years ago, another devastating diagnosis. Maya had cancer… again.
“All of a sudden we were back in this world,” said Maya’s father.
She pulled through once more and beat cancer, again.
“Hundreds of gifts were pouring into the children’s hospital, we were getting them here. We were driving home from the hospital and our driveway was full and we were bringing them to Maya and obviously, all of us were devastated and we brought these gifts – Maya said it’s enough,” said Maya’s father.
“I saw all these other kids at the hospital who weren’t getting presents and they didn’t have the luck that I had, and we began fundraising to help other kids like me,” said Maya.
Maya set a goal of $10,000. Perhaps a big goal for a small girl but she exceeded the amount within days. So she set another goal. And another. And then another.
“At this moment, we’re at $400,000,” said Maya. “It started with me just trying to raise a little money but it became bigger, it’s so amazing. People kind of just spread it,” she said.
Maya is Alex’s largest single fundraiser. She and her family are proud of that but they say it’s not just about the money raised. It’s what she’s learned along the way and what she hopes others have learned from her.
“I’ve had different experiences than all my friends. My personality has definitely changed and these experiences made me into a better person, so some good came out of the bad,” said Maya.
“She taught us incredible lessons, she’s still, you know, my 12-year-old preteen but she knows how to make a difference in the world, and she has taken the lessons from cancer, which is one of the hardest things anyone can go through, and she has really learned how to make the world a better place for herself and others. We can’t ask for more than that,” said Maya’s father.
And this weekend Maya will be celebrating her bat mitzvah. It’s expected to be a big celebration.
Maya says this is closure for her after her illness.
And as you might imagine — though she beat cancer a second time, she says she plans to keep fundraising.