Maya Rigler raising money for Alex’s Lemonade stand in 2007. Photo: Courtesy of the Rigler Family
Ever since 10-year-old Maya Rigler was in recovery from kidney cancer at age two, she and her family have rallied to support the pediatric cancer charity Alex’s Lemonade Stand Foundation. The organization is dear to them because it was founded by another young cancer fighter, Alexandra Scott, who lost her battle in 2004 at age 8. Each June since 2007, the Riglers have held a lemonade stand near their suburban Philadelphia home and thus far, have raised a few thousand dollars every year “to remember how lucky we are and to give back,”mom Stacy Rigler, a rabbi, tells Yahoo Parenting. But a week and a half ago, their luck changed when Maya’s doctors discovered she had another tumor, this time in her pancreas, and she will likely need to undergo chemotherapy once again.
“It was really weird at first,” Maya tells Yahoo Parenting, of facing cancer for the second time in 10 years, this time with a better understanding of her situation. “It’s still strange and scary a bit.” When get-well gifts started rolling in from friends, family and her school, Maya says that cheered her up – for a short while. “I felt happy but I didn’t need people buying me a million presents. I started to feel bad because I don’t need all this,” she says.
The Riglers in 2013. Photo: Courtesy of The Rigler Family
So she asked, instead, that anyone wanting to help, give to a virtual Alex’s Lemonade Stand the Riglers established last Tuesday, after Maya had gone to the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP) for a week of treatments. Her goal? $10,000. Fast forward six days and the grade schooler, back at home since yesterday, has already raked in more than $34,000 from devoted friends, family, and strangers. “It’s overwhelming,” marvels Maya. “But it feels so nice to know we’re helping other kids.” And she’s not done yet. The young warrior has upped her goal to $50,000.
“A lot of people are, like, struggling and not doing as well as me and I think, ‘They’re not getting presents and all the support and as much as I have,’” Maya explains. “I think that all this love should be given to helping other people too.”
Maya’s biggest comforts as she wages war against her tumor – which she’s named “Bob the Blob” to help her feel better talking about it – are her younger brothers, Nathan, 8, and Eli, 4. “They’re kind of scared to see the machines and tubes with me in the hospital,” she says. “But when they come in and snuggle with me they make me happy.” The little sidekicks support their sister by acting just the same as they always have, she adds. “With all these adults around, it’s nice to have little boys to come in and feel like normal again.”
Also normal to Maya is raising money and awareness for an important cause. In addition to the annual Lemonade stand events, Maya has helped lift spirits at CHOP. Recently noticing that that the children’s video library had only a few titles, she decided to rally people to donate more movies. In just a few days, the library had received several hundred new DVDs.
The Riglers with the late Alex Scott’s father, Jay Scott, in 2014. Photo: Courtesy of The Rigler Family
“Maya has always been a compassionate little girl,” says Stacy, who admits that seeing other people’s empathy for her daughter that is moving. “We are grounded in faith, in the tradition of Judaism that believes every day is a gift, but we’ve been blown away by people’s support.”
Buoyed by all the well wishes, Maya says she dreams of ultimately raising $500,000, in the spirit of her idol, the late Alex Scott. Maya’s dad Peter, also a rabbi, wouldn’t be surprised if his dynamo daughter accomplishes exactly that. “Every time we give Maya a number and it goes up even just one dollar, you should see her smile. It fills the room.”
To help Maya meet her goals and support pediatric cancer research, visit her Alex’s Lemonade stand page.