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Vickroy: Annual drive celebrates healing power of toys

If you go

Abby Casciato and Emily Beazley will host their 5th annual Toy Drive for Advocate Children’s Hospital from 2 to 6 p.m. Saturday at Sean’s Rhino Bar, 10330 S. Western Ave., Chicago. The price of admission is a new, unwrapped toy. For more information, contact Casciato at (773) 718-0195 or email absc1121@gmail.com.

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Updated: January 11, 2014 6:21AM



For more than two years, 11-year-old Emily Beazley endured painful, invasive cancer treatments.

The spinals and PEG shots (pegaspargase) hurt, made her sick and caused her hair to fall out.

Yet at the end of each treatment, there was a little bit of comfort. She got to go to the toy closet at Advocate Children’s Hospital.

“Cancer is very scary, I mean really scary. You just think your life ends,” the Mount Greenwood girl said.

During her long treatment program, there were many times when nurses and her mom, Nadia, would have to hold her down so painful shots could be administered.

“But afterward, I would get a toy and it was like a reward,” Emily said. “It was like, ‘Look what I did. Now I get to choose a toy.’ It made me feel better.”

Abby Casciato understands completely. The manager of Sean’s Rhino Bar has organized a holiday toy drive for the Oak Lawn hospital for the past five years.

“I want to bring a bit of joy to sick kids and to help out their financially strapped parents,” Casciato said.

A couple of years back, she met Emily at a block party. The two became fast friends.

Now Emily helps host the annual event as well as helping with the drive.

Emily was just 8 the day she had breathing problems while playing basketball with her dad, Ed. Doctors found a 4-by-4-inch mass in her left lung, which had collapsed.

The most aggressive form of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma was diagnosed.

Thus began 21/2 years of hospital visits, treatments and waiting.

“My hair started falling out in the shower,” Emily said. “I would just take a handful and stick it to the wall.”

To show their support, Emily’s mom and dad, as well as aunt and uncle, joined Emily in a head-shaving party. Earlier this year, little sister Olivia, 7, volunteered to go under the razor for St. Baldrick’s Day.

They’ve been through a lot but one constant source of happiness has been the toys.

“Toys make kids feel better,” said Emily, who finished treatment last summer.

The toy drive also is a way for Emily and her family to celebrate their success in the battle against cancer.

Nadia Beazley knows that in two out of three children who get childhood cancer, there is some kind of relapse in the form of a secondary cancer showing up or an awful side effect from the treatments.

“Chemotherapy for kids is just watered down from the adult treatment,” she said, citing the low amount of money that is funneled into childhood cancer research.

“We just wait and pray and hope for the best,” Nadia said. “We take one day at a time. Each day is a gift.”

They’re reminded of that gift every time they see Emily, now with long locks, smiling, running and climbing stairs with ease — all things she struggled to do just a short while ago.

And what better way to bring joy into your home than with stacks of toys piling up in the living room?

These toys are just the contributions made by people who can’t attend the annual event, which takes place Dec. 14 at Sean’s Rhino Bar, 10330 S. Western Ave., Chicago.

The cost of admission is a toy. Emily recommends donors look for items that give a kid something to do. Puzzles, Barbies, Legos and arts and craftsy things — “especially Rainbow Loom” — are well-received, she said.

During the festivities, prize baskets are raffled off, and all donated toys, which must be new and unwrapped (no stuffed animals, no doctor kits, please), are loaded up to be delivered to the children’s hospital.

The event, which offers drink specials and includes appetizers, many of which are made by Casciato’s mother, Jean, as well as other family and friends, is quite the affair, Casciato said.

“Last year, Emily sang on the bar,” Casciato said. No, not Christmas carols — “Call Me Maybe.”

People come and go all day, she said.

Santa also is expected to make an appearance.

Cash raised through the raffle or donated to the cause will be used to buy gift cards for the older kids who visit Advocate Children’s Hospital.

Since Casciato began collecting, the drive has grown considerably. That first year, Casciato collected about 200 toys. Last year’s haul was 975.

“It has just quadrupled in size,” she said, giving props to Chicago’s tight South Side community. “I never thought in a million years that it would get this big. It’s just blown up.

“But without the help of everyone in the neighborhood, we wouldn’t be able to do it,” she said.

Ed Beazley agreed.

“This community always rallies to take care of its own,” he said.



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