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Carroll County Times
Carroll County News

Eldersburg 7-year-old donates wagons to fellow pediatric cancer patients across Maryland via Abby’s Carts of Courage

Two months into Abby Cafiero Renehan’s cancer treatment journey in 2019, relief came from an unlikely source — a foldable blue wagon her mother, Katie, purchased at Walmart.

Abby had been diagnosed with a rare form of brain cancer just one week after her fourth birthday. Five days later, she had surgery at Children’s National Hospital in Washington, D.C, to remove 90% of a lemon-sized tumor.

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Through it all, the blue wagon and several others like it, have been a source of comfort and respite for Abby and her family.

“It just helped us so much with bringing luggage in and with her snacks,” Katie Renehan said. “When she was nervous, she could sit in her wagon with her stuffed animals and her blankets and pillows and just really veg out and feel safe.”

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In May 2022, the Renehans, of Eldersburg, launched Abby’s Carts of Courage, a nonprofit program that donates brand-new Radio Flyer Wagons to children who are battling cancer or have received treatment within the past year.

Each wagon comes packed with a variety of comfort items such as blankets, slippers, nightlights and heating packs, many of which are hand-picked by Abby based on surveys each recipient fills out. One of her favorite gifts to include are snap-on bracelets in the shape of animals.

“They can hug you whenever you feel scared,” Abby, now 7, explained.

Following her 2019 surgery, Abby underwent months of various chemotherapies, stem cell rescue and proton radiation therapy at regional hospitals. The chemotherapy drugs secreted through Abby’s sweat were so strong at some points that Renehan couldn’t even hug her daughter or wipe away her tears.

Renehan noticed other parents of patients largely used baby strollers and wondered why more hadn’t made the leap to wagons. During chemotherapy, Abby’s weight had dropped to 33 pounds and she began throwing up blood, but she still found joy in her wagon, which she used as a miniature art studio.

“The thought was if we can get through this, I would love to do something where we can give other kids wagons,” Renehan said.

Although Abby finished her last chemotherapy session in June 2021, about 8% of her tumor remains and she continues to undergo scans and bloodwork every four months in addition to physical therapy. Last spring, as her health improved, she was determined to help fellow pediatric cancer patients with their own medical journeys.

To find children in need, Renehan reached out to facilities where Abby had received care, including Sinai Hospital in Baltimore and the Maryland Proton Treatment Center. Word quickly spread and the program has delivered more than 20 wagons to children in Maryland and has shipped a few to the West Coast — to California and Washington.

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The program operates out of Respite Retreats, an Ellicott City-based nonprofit founded in 2018 that facilitates free in-person and virtual retreats to support cancer patients, their families and caregivers in the region.

“The dream was to create a safe place ... where they could step away from the diagnosis, even if it was just for a moment, and reconnect with each other on that personal level,” said Columbia resident Wendy Letow, Respite Retreats’ founder and executive director.

Letow knows how important it is to help patients take their minds off of a diagnosis and ease the burden on loved ones who become caregivers. She was diagnosed with cervical cancer 10 years ago and later cared for her mother in Florida as she battled terminal colon cancer.

When Renehan approached her about the idea for Abby’s Carts of Courage, Letow says she got goosebumps and offered her support.

 Abby Cafiero Renehan is photographed in her backyard with her Radio Flyer, sitting outside her "cottage" that Make A Wish Foundation built for her. Seven-year-old Eldersburg resident Abby Cafiero Renehan has been battling brain cancer since December 2019. This past May, she decided to start the nonprofit program "Abby's Carts of Courage" to help support fellow cancer patients. The program donates Radio Flyer Wagons packed with comfort items to current pediatric cancer patients or to children who are up to one year post treatment.

“Baby strollers have a weight limit of 55 pounds,” Letow said. “It’s a good, healthy, safe way to transport these children and it gives them an opportunity to be able to have different things in the wagon.”

Abby and Renehan deliver the wagons and have grown close to many of the parents and children experiencing the same long hours and uncertainty they faced at the hospital.

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“I think it feels very joyful for them,” Abby said. “When I deliver wagons, it makes them feel like somebody’s caring for them.”

Jessup resident Divya Mohan Tambre’s 4-year-old daughter, Iyra Rupesh Gondle, received a wagon in June while undergoing treatment for rhabdomyosarcoma, a type of soft tissue cancer. After a proton center specialist told Mohan Tambre about Abby’s Carts of Courage, she immediately reached out to Renehan to see if they qualified.

“It was a huge relief for me,” said Mohan Tambre, who had recently given birth to a second daughter and was struggling to move Irya around hospital campuses. “It was so easy for her to sleep on the move and not be disturbed so much.”

All donations to the program are processed through Respite Retreats; $400 covers the cost of a Radio Flyer Wagon and all of the included comfort items. Donors, or “Abby’s Angels,” can also start a collective campaign to buy items from a wish list and help fill a wagon.

Abby’s Carts of Courage also conducts small fundraisers throughout the year with local businesses. BotaniGal, a retail houseplant and horticulture therapy business in Sykesville and winner of the 2022 Carroll Biz Challenge, is donating 1% of all January sales to the program.

To learn more about Abby’s Carts of Courage and how to donate or sign up for a wagon, visit: https://respiteretreats.org/abbys-carts-of-courage

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Renehan hopes the wagons become more than just a method of transportation and function as a home away from home, as they did for Abby.

“We live basically in the hospitals,” Mohan Tambre said. “[The wagon] becomes a part of your family.”


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