The holidays are both jubilant and difficult for Raymond Rodriguez Torres, who lost his daughter Bella to cancer three years ago.
“It’s a very joyous time but it’s also a very hard time,” Torres said. “However, the challenge of missing her is then met with generations of children, playing and laughing and seeing bright lights being illuminated in her memory.”
From Dec. 18 through Jan. 2, the Live Like Bella foundation greeted all Pinecrest Gardens goers with its annual Light up the Night event in honor of Bella Rodriguez-Torres. Thousands of bright holiday lights welcomed guests as they journeyed through the park.
Bella, 10, died in 2013 after a six-year battle with rhabdomyosarcoma — an aggressive form of childhood cancer. Bella captured the hearts of millions on a local and global level. After her death, the hashtag #LiveLikeBella was born and launched a worldwide movement urging people to seek hope and live life to the fullest.
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“It’s humbling to see the people come through time and again, joyful, running around and living like Bella,” Torres said, noting that the festival was an experience for all children and their families. “It was a chance to come out for a good cause and join the Bella Believers.”
The event provided carnival rides and treats for children, as well as a variety of activities and concerts. Many of Bella’s former friends and classmates participated in a piano and choir performance.
“It’s something that I did not know that was going to happen,” her father said. “It was incredibly emotional. They sang her favorite song, Santa Claus is Coming to Town.”
All of the sponsor and entrance proceeds went to the Live Like Bella Foundation and its programs, an organization dedicated to finding a cure for pediatric cancer by funding research. The foundation also provides support for families with children currently in treatment and provides memorial assistance for families who have lost a child to cancer.
In September, Live Like Bella Foundation announced a partnership with Baptist Health South Florida to fund the Live Like Bella Pediatric Proton Radiation Oncology Program at Miami Cancer Institute. Also, the foundation has funded five clinical trials at universities nationwide.
“I am blown away. All this has happened in the 29 months since Bella went to heaven,” Torres said.