Temple Ahavat Shalom parents and preschoolers strolled around America's Teaching Zoo at Moorpark College on Jan. 27, waiting for Alexa Weiner to arrive for her fifth birthday party. When they learned that the event had been canceled due to a family emergency, none of them could have imagined that the bright, spirited birthday girl was at Childrens Hospital, fighting for her life as she awaited emergency surgery for stage-three brain cancer.
"It was devastating for the preschool," said Kim Bernstein, whose daughter, Marjolaine, is one of Alexa's best friends. "It really hit our community hard."
Preschool parents have rallied around the Weiners, preparing meals for them and fundraising for the American Cancer Society's third annual San Fernando Valley Relay for Life, under the auspices of Team Irene and Team Alexa. So far, the two groups have raised almost $40,000 for an event that will bring more than 2,000 people to Birmingham High School for a 24-hour walk-campout on June 26-27. About 30 Ahavat Shalom preschoolers are expected to walk and carry a banner in honor of Alexa.
"We will walk around the track for 24 hours, because cancer never sleeps, so neither will we," said event chair Jill Rosen, an Ahavat Shalom preschool parent and leader of Team Irene, named for the mother she lost to cancer two years ago.
Alexa's parents, Anthony and Denise Wiener, thought that she might have hit her head the night before her birthday when they heard a scream from her bedroom and found her comatose on the floor. They took her to Simi Hospital, where she was diagnosed and then airlifted to Childrens Hospital for her operation.
"When she first came out, they were afraid she would never talk again," Anthony Weiner said. "Her motor skills and speech have come back.... Once she beats this, she should hopefully lead a normal life."
Alexa will have to miss both her preschool graduation and the relay as she undergoes a six-week stem-cell treatment that begins June 16 at Childrens Hospital, which follows 12 weeks of aggressive chemotherapy.
Dori Peskin, wife of Brent's Deli owner Brent Peskin, said she started Team Alexa to walk in honor of her best friend's daughter. A poster about Alexa hangs in the window of the popular North Valley restaurant, and inside, a personal note asks customers to contribute. One actor who saw the appeal donated $1,000.
"We're making people aware and trying to raise money for research," said Peskin, who describes the mood of the family as very upbeat.
"The only thing that's really helped us get through all this is the support we've had from friends and family," Anthony Weiner said. "To have people walking for her while she's going through the biggest battle in her life is amazing."
For more information about the Valley Relay for Life, call (818) 905-7766, option 3, or visit www.acsevents.org/relay/ca/thevalley .