Community fights cancer through Saturday bake sale

Heather Nyberg-Schlotzhauer

Beacon Correspondent

Bethel Church and community members are coming together to hold a bake sale in honor of 9-year-old Oliver Zuniga who has been fighting cancer for almost three years. The bake sale will be held at Bethel Church located at 2734 Hubbard Lane in Eureka on April 6 from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Ashley Gouthier organized the fundraiser, saying, "Join us to help support the family's expenses, gather hope, and offer love." Gouthier encourages anyone attending the event to feel free to bring your own favorite baked good as a donation while they support the sale and try one of the many sweet treats.

Oliver is a happy third grader who attends Alice Birney Elementary School. He receives lots of hugs from his fellow classmates and enjoys playing with them.

In April of 2010 sweet Oliver told his mom he was having headaches. Oliver made a couple trips to the doctor, but everything seemed fine until August 2010. Oliver was walking down the stairs reaching for the railing and steps and again he complained of headaches.

His mother, Desirae Andrews, took him to the eye doctor where they were again told everything was fine. In September everything changed and on the flight to Lucille Packard Children's Hospital Oliver said, "Everything went dark." That was the last time Oliver could see the world around him.

It was at Stanford the young child would find out he was battling medulloblastoma and its first attack would be on his sight. Oliver would fight the cancer for the next two years with a short window of relief only to have it reoccur on his spine in October of 2012.

As a volunteer for the Redwood Regional Logging Conference Education Day every year, I did not think twice of the three classes my 19-year-old daughter Alexia Nyberg and I took around. A young blind boy with a personal guide was in our group and continued to catch my eye for the pure happiness and positive attitude they displayed.

I questioned the boy about what he could sense about the machines and the unique noises and Oliver said, "I hear the buzzing, but I do not know what it is. I love the sound of the train and the feel of its motion." I explained to Oliver that the buzzing was the chainsaw competition and that they were making eagles, benches, turtles, and many other animals to sell at an auction. He was amazed they could create those just using chainsaws. Oliver waited patiently in a long line of students to ride on the train, never complaining and always with a big smile on his face.

Six years of discovering the world, but only scratching the surface of the incredible sights and then darkness. You would never know of the loss as Oliver always has a smile on his face and a wave of laughter to wash over you surrounding you in the joy of life.

Imagine my surprise when I called the home of a little boy I had heard about fighting cancer. I spoke to his mother and then to him as he told me about his ability to go to activities with the school because he has a great guide named Max who goes everywhere with him for school.

Desi Andrews attributes a lot of what Oliver can do to Max, his one-on-one aide who is patient and kind. "Max helps me around by holding my arm and I hold his. He helps me get around my school," said Oliver.

Oliver shared his most recent trip to a Logging show where he rode on a train. Then the light came on, he was my Oliver and the little boy I had talked to so many others since about because of his amazing spirit. Oliver laughed and said, "I remember you. You asked about the noise and smells."

Learning how to use a walking stick is progressing for Oliver, but he is unable to go out independently. He is learning to read Braille and would benefit greatly to a Braille tablet or pad to increase his learning abilities. Andrews said, "The schools do not have this technology and Oliver is eager to learn, but they are about $7,000."

At home Oliver also has loving support from his 6-year-old first grade sister Jasmine who also attends Alice Birney Elementary. "She is funny and loud. I like to play with her," said Oliver.

Oliver likes trains, movies, music, stories, swimming and bike riding. He likes to laugh and anyone who knows him can confirm the constant smile. "I feel strong. I like to play with my friends and they like to play with me," said Oliver.

Chemo treatment began this week again for Oliver. He is in good spirits, but according to his mom, "The cranky chemo bear makes an appearance due to zapping his energy."

When reflecting on the bake sale Oliver said, "A lot of people are getting together to pray for me. That is really neat. I want to go and thank everyone for caring about me."

The event will also play host to the California Cancer Crushers where 50 percent of the sales will go to Oliver. You can find Oliver's Facebook page at "Oliver Zuniga Support Page" and a bank account has been set up in his name at Coast Central Credit Union #184855.

More baked goods are needed for the bake sale and if you would like to help you can call Ashley Gouthier at 476-8593. Gouthier will be at Bethel Church on Friday from 5 to 6 p.m. to accept donations and again at 10 a.m. prior to the event on Saturday.

Photo by Heather Nyberg-Schlotzhauer/Beacon

Oliver (center) enjoys an afternoon at Sequoia Park with his 6-year-old sister Jasmine (on slide) and mother Desirae.