Fritz Stark loves superheroes. He’s also a bit of a superhero himself. Fritz was diagnosed with B-Cell Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia when he was just 2 years old. But procedures and hospital stays couldn’t keep this high-energy kid down, and friends and neighbors started calling him “Super Fritz” for his can-do attitude. This superstar is now cancer-free and will soon celebrate his eighth birthday.

Anjali Pawar, a pediatric hematology oncologist at the UC Davis Comprehensive Cancer Center, fondly remembers Fritz Stark’s first year of treatment. One memory in particular stands out.

“The peach trees were flowering outside the cancer center and Fritz was waiting outdoors for his infusion therapy and was excitedly doing flips on the grass. The children go with ‘what is’ and not ‘what if.’ That’s the kind of joy they bring to us providers,” said Pawar.

Despite his carefree attitude, Fritz’s parents, Anna and Ben Stark, said their son’s three-year fight with cancer wasn’t easy, even with big brother Payne, two years older, stepping in to help. Now, Fritz is a big brother himself. His baby brother Duke arrived just as Fritz’s cancer was going into remission.

The three Stark boys are keeping their family busy these days, but Anna and Ben know how difficult the cancer journey with a child can be and now they want to give back.

Meet the Flowers

Ruth and Paul Flowers are big fans of Fritz. Long-time family friends of the Starks, they’ve also spent time at the cancer center. Paul Flowers credits Jeanna Welborn, director of the Cytogenetics and Bone Marrow Labs and an expert in blood cancers, with excellent care after he experienced symptoms that luckily turned out to be a false alarm.

Ruth and Paul Flowers

“We were extremely impressed with the way we were treated — as patients and family at UC Davis,” shared Ruth Flowers. They are ready to give back, too.

“For anyone getting a cancer diagnosis, it is beyond scary, especially when it is a family whose child is diagnosed with cancer,” said Flowers. “After Fritz was diagnosed, we were in constant contact with the Starks and heard about the challenges navigating their new family routines and employment responsibilities, seeking responses to non-medical questions of concern and, most importantly, handling the insurance hurdles.”

Both grateful for the care they received at the UC Davis Comprehensive Cancer Center, the Flowers and the Starks decided to start the Super Fritz & Friends Fund to create a new resource specialist position at the cancer center.

“This resource specialist will partner with our social workers, in addressing the many requirements and needs that these families face, and allow the team to have more time to focus on the psychosocial needs of our patients,” said Marcio Malogolowkin, a board-certified pediatric hematologist-oncologist and chief of the Division of Pediatric Hematology-Oncology.

The Starks and the Flowers are thrilled that the position is becoming a reality.

“Fritz undoubtedly received the best medical care from a comprehensive team of doctors, nurses and child life specialists,” shared Anna Stark. “The front desk team and the medical techs were joyful people to be around. We loved the pediatric infusion center, also known as the ‘juice caboose,’ and can’t wait to watch this new family resource position be realized and flourish, too.”

Pediatric cancer is hard on families, and the journey is complicated by pressures unrelated to actual medical care.

Fritz Stark and Huggie the UC Davis therapy dog trained to support kids with cancer.
Super Fritz spends time with Huggie, the UC Davis facility dog who supports kids with cancer.

“Many people give money for research for a cure. What is left out are funds for a non-medical facilitator to guide and assist families at the time their child is diagnosed with cancer,” said Flowers. “There needs to be a professional specialist to help the family navigate through their emotional, practical, and financial struggles.”

The resource specialist position will strengthen and enhance the support that the UC Davis Comprehensive Cancer Center provides to loved ones and families.

“Watching us go through the experience, Ruth and Paul recognized the non-medical struggles that Ben and I, as parents, were up against following Fritz’s diagnosis. It was the most challenging time of our lives,” said Anna. “Yet, the Flowers knew what was missing. They got to the heart of it.”

It is through this realization and the shared experience of fighting cancer that the Super Fritz & Friends Fund was born. The goal is to raise $250,000 initially to fund the resource specialist position for the first two years.

Other childhood cancer families support the idea

Michelle and Jason Hurst agree the resource specialist position is needed. Their daughter, Taylor, was only 5 when she was diagnosed with high-risk T-cell acute lymphocytic leukemia, an aggressive and unique form of Leukemia. Taylor and Fritz met while receiving treatment at the UC Davis cancer center. Taylor is now 10, is in remission, and has been out of treatment for over two years.

“To have the community step up and fund this position is amazing. To have this community support is priceless,” expressed Taylor’s mom, Michelle Hurst. “When we hurt, we all hurt. When we win, we all win.”