How one little girl’s legacy is transforming childhood cancer treatment.

When tragedy strikes, our initial reaction can be anger, frustration, and blame. 

However, if we can put these emotions aside and choose to use our gifts to help others, we can find peace and purpose we never believed possible.

Nobody knows this better than Raymond Rodriguez-Torres. 

When his daughter Bella was born, she was deprived of oxygen due to labor complications. This meant she experienced developmental delays which affected how she communicated and led to discrimination and bullying from other children. 

Despite this, Raymond, his wife – a special education teacher – and his father, who is a pediatric cardiologist, did everything they could to give Bella a childhood full of joy and laughter. 

But then, one day, something happened that none of them could have predicted. 

Bella woke up one morning, after a night of repeatedly falling, paralyzed from the waist down. Initially, it was believed that she had Guillain-Barre Syndrome, a disease that attacks the neurological system and paralyzes the body from the toes to the lungs. 

However, after time in the Pediatric ICU and a failed treatment plan, they discovered a more devastating truth; Bella had cancer, and her paralysis was caused by a huge tumor on her spine with an additional eight tumors found throughout her body. 

As Raymond says:

“Throughout those endless nights in the Pediatric ICU, all I kept asking God was ‘Why me? What have I done to deserve this?’”

Bella began chemotherapy the next day, and her life expectancy was a matter of months. However, something incredible happened. This beautiful little girl, who was expected never to walk again, was running and jumping months later and startedfundraising drives to help other children facing cancer. 

Bella continued her brave battle for another six years, inspiring people around the world, before passing away at the age of 10 in 2013. Although her life was short, her legacy and impact have reached beyond what Raymond could have imagined. 

“I am a member of a club that I would never wish anyone to be a part of. But I realized that I could take control of how I responded to our tragedy. Bella was innocent, fearless, and joyful – she inspired us to try and make a difference for others.”

The #LiveLikeBella message went viral on the night Bella passed away after LeBron James and Dwayne Wade of the NBA’s Miami Heat wore the hashtag on their shoes at a playoff game. This was the springboard for the creation of the Live Like Bella® Childhood Cancer Foundation. 

The Live Like Bella® Foundation is committed to becoming a leader in childhood cancer research and advocacy while providing emotional support to families whose children are battling cancer. 

To date, the foundation has made possible over $37 million and funded over 66 clinical trials.

“Childhood cancer is the #1 killer disease of children. Why has this become an acceptable statistic? In the US alone, two classrooms worth of children are diagnosed every single day, and yet childhood cancer receives only 4% of the National Institute for Public Health’s research budget every year.”

One of the trials the Live Like Bella® Pediatric Cancer Research Initiative has supported recently made national headlines across the US. 

In partnership with Florida International University, cutting-edge precision medicine and AI technology has been developed to analyze a sample of a tumor and provide a personalized treatment protocol using combinations of FDA-approved drugs and has led to an 83% survival rate among participants. 

“We have proof that this trial is helping children to live longer. We are working closely with all stakeholders to expand this groundbreaking trial to include more children, and eventually to provide new treatment opportunities for adults too.”

The Live Like Bella® Foundation is also committed to assisting families worldwide with the financial burdens associated withchildhood cancer. Not only do they help people stay afloat throughout treatment, but they also pay for the headstones, burials, and funerals for children who pass away due to cancer. To date, they have supported families in 37 different countries. 

Raymond also recently delivered a TEDx talk titled “Tragedy to Triumph – Live Like Bella at the TEDxColumbusHS event on March 16. The talk went live on YouTube in April 2024 and has already racked up almost a quarter of a million views.

Also on the horizon is a soon-to-be-released EMMY Award winning documentary about Bella’s life, which has already generated a lot of buzz on the awards circuit and will be available worldwide on Amazon Prime. 

We want to work towards childhood cancer being a preventable and treatable chronic disease. The Live Like Bella®Foundation continues to move from strength to strength, and we are fully committed to spreading our work as far and wide as possible. “

With such a powerful vision and unfailing dedication to serving others, there is no doubt that Raymond, his family, and the wider Live Like Bella® team have created a beautiful legacy for a little girl who touched lives across the globe.

“Losing Bella was, and continues to be, unimaginably hard. But through the work we are doing with the Live Like Bella®Foundation, she is more alive now than ever. We have found peace and purpose we could never have imagined by following her lead and serving others.”

To get involved with the incredible work of the Live Like Bella Childhood Cancer®Foundationvisit their website

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