It takes a neighborhood to fight cancer

Residents of Port’s Misty Ridge subdivision have done whatever they can to help a couple whose 2-year-old daughter was diagnosed with serious disease

RESIDENTS OF THE Misty Ridge subdivision in Port Washington gathered Tuesday around the Handrow family — Liz and 2-year-old Avery, who has cancer, Justin and Avery’s twin Owen and 5-year-old Olivia — to show support for the family. In addition to raising money to help with the Handrows’ medical bills, neighbors have tied yellow cancer awareness ribbons around most of the trees in the subdivision. Photo by Sam Arendt
By 
DAN BENSON
Ozaukee Press staff

When a little girl has cancer, it takes a neighborhood to help her and her family.

That’s the case in the Misty Ridge subdivision on Port Washington’s far south side.

Avery Handrow, who turned 2 in September, was diagnosed in February with childhood rhabdomyosarcoma, a cancer of soft tissue, in her face.

Since then, neighbors have placed yellow ribbons on trees, decorated the Handrow family’s house for fall, provided gift baskets of food and raised money to help with mounting medical bills.

For the Handrows, who have lived in the subdivision for less than a year, the support they’ve received from people they barely knew has been “graciously overwhelming,” Liz Handrow, Avery’s mother, said.

“Their love and support has been extraordinary,” said Liz, a nurse at Aurora Medical Center in Grafton. Her husband Justin is a probation officer in Milwaukee.

Liz, a native of Shorewood, and her husband, a native of Hartford, moved to the neighborhood in August 2017 from Grafton, looking for a bigger house for them and their three children, Olivia, 5, and twins Avery and Owen.

Avery’s cancer “started up overnight,” Liz said. 

“We were at work and a nanny sent us a picture of her face because it looked a little swollen. We hadn’t noticed anything the night before,” she said.

A few doctor visits later, it was confirmed Avery had cancer.

Since then, Avery has undergone chemotherapy and been hospitalized at times at Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin with infections.

Word of Avery’s condition leaked out after Justin mentioned it in March to a neighbor. It didn’t take long for word to spread that the Handrows could use some help.

One of the ringleaders was Angie Wenzel, who heard about it at a neighborhood gathering. She didn’t know the Handrows.

“It hit me kind of hard because I’m a nurse (at Columbia St. Mary’s in Mequon),” Wenzel said. “And I have a kid. I asked Liz via direct message if it would be OK if I put something together.”

“Angie mentioned to me that everyone wanted to help,” Liz said. “At the time of Avery’s first diagnosis, they collected gift cards and presents. When we found out that the cancer spread, everyone regrouped and did the yellow ribbons.”

It wasn’t difficult to drum up interest, Wenzel said.

“I keep the neighborhood in the loop as best I can,” using Facebook and other social media, she said.

She can’t count how many people have been involved.

“I have no idea. A lot of people,” Wenzel said. “It’s the whole subdivision.

“We organized a few things like the yellow ribbons and a make-their-house-pretty thing. One Saturday we decorated the whole house.

“We help if they need lawn care, meals, watering plants. There’s about 30 mums in front of their house.” 

They’ve also bought a fence picket at Possibility Playground dedicated to Avery, and in October a tree will be planted in the neighborhood park.

For trick-or-treat, neighbor kids will collect candy for Avery and drop it off at the Handrows’ front door since Avery is unable to go outside because of her compromised immune system, Wenzel said.

Recently, about 75 people, many of them Misty Ridge residents, attended a fundraiser at Just4Fun Playland in Grafton organized by the childhood cancer group, Kisses from Keegan and Friends, and the Milwaukee chapter of Gamerosity, an organization that encourages grassroots community improvement efforts.

Wenzel called Misty Ridge an “old school neighborhood.”

“It’s like a neighborhood where we grew up. Where everyone knows everyone and everyone cares for everybody,” she said.

For the Handrows, the support they have received from hospital staff, co-workers and their neighbors has been “fantastic,” Liz said.

A GoFundMe page, Avery’s Hope, has been established at www.gofundme.com/avery039s-hope. 

As of Wednesday morning $23,665 of its $25,000 goal has been raised.

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Wisconsin’s largest paid circulation community weekly newspaper. Serving Port Washington, Saukville, Grafton, Fredonia, Belgium, as well as Ozaukee County government. Locally owned and printed in Port Washington, Wisconsin.

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