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Balloon release raises awareness of kids with cancer

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Destiny Herrera, center, who was diagnosed with bone cancer, releases gold balloons during Sunday’s Destiny’s Challenge while surrounded by mother Sabrina Herrera, left, and little brother Ricky as...

HIME ROMERO/The Bulletin

POSTED September 10, 2013 1:51 a.m.

Destiny Herrera spent most of her Monday asleep in bed, weary from the weekend’s festivities.

Sunday fun day?

Based on the megawatt smile and all that gold on the ground and in the air, you bet.

The 10-year-old with osteosarcoma played host to more than 100 people at Woodward Park, continuing her campaign to bring awareness to all forms of childhood cancer.

September is Childhood Cancer Awareness month. From the outset, Destiny’s challenge has been to spread awareness.

“Kids get cancer, too” has been her mission statement. It’s been an exhausting effort, to be sure, especially as she continues chemotherapy treatments for bone cancer.

“Anything she does now has consequences,” her mother Sabrina Herrera said Monday as Destiny slept through the late morning. “She was out and about all day Sunday, so today she’s pretty tired.

“It takes a big toll on her. She loved it, but unfortunately that’s just part of having cancer.”

Destiny’s body may not have the stamina and energy it once had, but the home-schooled fifth grader takes great pride in the fact that she’s accomplishing her goal.

Today, more and more people are talking about childhood cancers.

Wearing a gold top with gold bead necklace and a black bandana, Destiny led Sunday’s symbolic balloon release.

The gold balloons were dedicated to those living with a childhood cancer, and for those who have lost their lives.

Destiny was surprised by Sunday’s turnout.  She plans to host a balloon release every Sunday throughout September, and the latest turnout more than doubled the first.

“I was super excited. I was so thankful, and I’m glad that I’m getting the awareness out there,” Destiny said. “… Maybe I can save someone’s life.”

Destiny thanked all those in attendance for their support of her and those affected by a childhood cancer, which make up less than 1 percent of all cancers diagnosed each year. Each school day, 46 children are diagnosed with a form of cancer and seven die, according to data released by Children Battling Cancer.

By that measure, Destiny is a statistic.

But as her fight has shown, she’s far from a faceless, voiceless victim.

“She’s my hero,” Sabrina said.

Destiny was diagnosed with osteosarcoma in May of last year. She has lost all of her hair and suffers from kidney failure because of the chemo. Her long-term prognosis, however, remains positive.

She says she draws strength from the story of the late Talia Joy, a 13-year-old whose own battle with cancer played out on YouTube.

Her make-up tutorials resonated with Destiny, who has struggled with the physical toll cancer has taken on her body.

Joy endured a series of relapses before her death, but continued to inspire hope in others with the message, “Just keep swimming,” a phrase borrowed from the Disney-Pixar movie “Finding Nemo.”

Destiny liked that.

Still does.

Before her death, Destiny was able to chat with Joy through various blogs.

“She told me ‘Just keep swimming, just keep swimming,’ ” Destiny said. “… I like here a lot. She was so inspiring.”

Added Sabrina: “Destiny struggled with losing her hair and this little girl inspired her. … Destiny took an immediate liking; she was able to relate on a personal level.”

Like Joy, Destiny is searching out alternative ways to help strengthen a weakened community of cancer patients.

She has begun a picture contest, asking friends, family and strangers to send her pictures of themselves with a gold ribbon and a sign with the words “Destiny made me aware kids get cancer, too.”

For every picture she receives, an anonymous sponsor will donate 5 cents to the Herrera family. Destiny will use the money to purchase personalized lollipops that she’ll send to children with cancer.

“This is what she wants to do,” Sabrina said. “This was her wish – to make people aware.”

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