Deputy Phillip Brooks hopes Merced County residents will rally to help Kaiden Pacheco, an 8-year-old Hilmar girl, in her battle against cancer.
“Cancer affects everybody; just about anyone you can think of has known someone or been affected by it at one time or another,” Brooks explained. “When we learned of it affecting such a sweet, wonderful little girl, we decided we’d get involved immediately.”
Brooks, 47, is president of the Merced County Deputy Sheriff’s Association. He joined the Merced County Sheriff’s Department five years ago after serving many years with the Fremont Police Department. Raised in Compton in Southern California, Brooks moved to Merced County in 2001 to raise a family.
He is no stranger to the hardships of cancer, having lost his mother and his sister to the disease.
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Now, Brooks is using his influence as leader of the deputies and dispatchers union to raise awareness and money to help Kaiden and her family.
On Friday, Brooks, along with Deputy Delray Shelton and dispatcher Melissa Warnke, presented Kaiden with a check for $450. The deputies, coroners and dispatchers also donated several toys to her.
“It’s the amount of money we could spend without having to take a formal vote from the whole association, which is required,” Brooks said. “We’re going to do that, too, and will be donating more. But a vote takes time, and we wanted to act as quickly as possible.”
Kaiden’s friends and family described her a fun-loving third-grader who attends Elim Elementary School in Hilmar. She loves to dance and enjoys art, especially drawing. She loves to laugh and joke with her friends.
Kaiden, who is sometimes shy around new friends, blushed while accepting the check, but quickly turned around again, beaming a bright smile and exclaimed suddenly, “Thank you, my good American people!”
She was diagnosed earlier this year with rhabdomyosarcoma but has made great strides toward recovery with aggressive chemotherapy and surgery. Kaiden and her family hope for a good outcome and even more positive news in coming weeks and months.
“Yes,” Kaiden said, “then I can be hyper again!”
Treatment has been hard for her and difficult to watch for her parents, Paul and Stephanie. Weekly, sometimes daily, visits to the hospital in Madera have been physically, emotionally and financially difficult for the family.
Stephanie Pacheco had to leave her job to care for Kaiden full time. Paul Pacheco continues making ends meet for his family working as manager at the Alfred Matthews Collision Center in Turlock.
“It’s tough; any parent, I’m sure, would want to take that for their child, put themselves in that place, so she could just enjoy her life,” Stephanie Pacheco said. “As a parent, you really feel like you can’t do anything. That’s the hard part.”
Brooks and the deputies learned of Kaiden’s story earlier this year after hearing of a campaign in Hilmar schools called “Quarters for Kaiden,” which was sparked by Catherine Benning, who works at the school, and Benning’s 14-year-old daughter, Erin.
Kaiden says Erin is now like the older sister she never knew she always wanted. Kaiden wrapped her arms around Erin on Friday and was carried outside to formally accept the check from the deputies. “I just really, really wanted to help Kaiden,” Erin explained.
The Pacheco family is grateful for all the support they’ve received and hope others will continue reaching out to help their daughter. “Everything that everyone has done for us – there just aren’t enough words to be able to thank everybody,” Paul Pacheco said.
Catherine Benning has established a trust fund to help Kaiden and her family. Donations can be made by inquiring at any Farmers & Merchants Bank of Central California. The account was opened at the Hilmar branch office, Benning said.
For his part, Brooks said, helping good kids like Kaiden is part of the small-community culture that originally drew him to Merced County.
“After spending time with her and her family, you see how she’s handled this struggle, and it just shows an amazing strength and maturity,” Brooks said. “It’s a struggle I hope everybody will want to be a part of.”