MILWAUKEE -- Milwaukee native and Marquette University graduate Jeff Castelaz had everything in life: a beautiful family and a successful record company in Los Angeles. But Jeff's world was turned upside down in 2008 when his five-year-old son, Pablo, was diagnosed with a rare form of pediatric cancer. Pablo lost a valiant battle with the disease one year later. Though he died at the young age of just six, Pablo's life is making a positive impact on the lives of countless other youngsters, that could last for generations.
Pablo's spirit is living on through the efforts of the Pablove Foundation, which was founded by Pablo's father Jeff, and his wife Jo Ann Thrailkill two years ago. The organization serves to fund pediatric cancer research and advances in treatment, to educate and empower cancer families, and improve the quality of life for children living with cancer through hospital play, music and arts programs. All the money raised through the Pablove foundation goes directly to funding pediatric cancer research.
Jeff says support for Pablove has grown through a blog they started while Pablo was undergoing treatments, which provided updates and a glimpse into Pablo's life with cancer. Jeff says once the support grew, it was very easy to start raising money to help fight childhood cancer, and Jeff says he has received support from all walks of life, whether it be from hard-working people who get up and work hard every day, to the very wealthy donating for tax purposes.
The program's first childhood cancer research grants in 2011 totaled $150,000 in funding for innovative research projects. Pablove Across America, their signature long-distance bike ride, raises awareness of childhood cancer in cities nationwide every October. Along the way, riders visit local children's hospitals and communities, and participate in fundraising and awareness events. In October, the Pablove team of cyclists rode nearly 1,500 miles from Milwaukee to New Orleans, making stops in Chicago, St. Louis, Louisville, and Nashville along the way. It was fitting that this year's bike ride began in Milwaukee, and not just because Jeff is a Milwaukee native. Jeff says Pablo loved this city.
"Pablo loved this city. He was here twice, and when he was diagnosed, he and I had a plan to come here the following weekend to hang out. When you are doing something to raise awareness for pediatric cancer, you go to where you think you might have a bed of support, and Milwaukee has given us that, more than we can even imagine," Jeff said.
A friend who texted Jeff just before the ride, helped put his incredible outreach in proper perspective. He said in his text, "remember that when you start tomorrow, that your little boy, even though he is physically gone from this world, all of those people who are getting together tomorrow morning, and all the news crews, all the supporters, all those people are there for one reason."
Jeff has given a great deal of his time and talent to reach out through Pablove, not only to kids with cancer, but also, their parents, which is why he makes an effort to stop at hospitals during his long rides.
"Being a cancer parent myself, I can look into the eyes of another parent who is going through what we went through, and I can know that they are greatful to have somebody come into their room with some positivity and some fun. I always bring a bike with me," Jeff said.
In the process, he holds his late son Pablo close to his heart. "I view this as though I am continuing to parent Pablo. That is the way I look at it. That works for me," Jeff said.
October's bike ride raised almost $370,000 for Pablove, to benefit kids with cancer.