At the age of 13, Averi Valdivieso was so full of life she laid out a detailed picture of her future: She wanted to be a professional chef and live in England. She also wanted to marry a ginger-haired man with a British accent.
It was attained in spirit only. On March 12, 2009, Averi succumbed to Ewing’s sarcoma, a type of bone cancer that mostly afflicts teenagers. She was 16.
While Averi’s time on earth was concentrated into 16 years, Roxanne “Roxie” Weaver Valdivieso, her mother, says the teen’s all-too-brief life continues to have a positive impact.
To honor the 10th anniversary of Averi's passing — and her life — Valdivieso and her daughter, Hannah — Averi's sister — are taking pledges up to (and beyond) March 2, when the two will shave their heads at the Hampton Roads Shave to Raise! event. The event takes place from 9 a.m. to noon at The Westin Virginia Beach, 4535 Commerce St., Virginia Beach.
The mother-daughter duo are accepting pledges to raise $16,000 for St. Baldrick’s Foundation, a nonprofit childhood cancer research organization. As of Feb. 22, they have raised $16,324.
According to St. Baldrick’s, every two minutes a child is diagnosed with cancer. The Valdivieso family wants Averi’s legacy to be helping to find a cure.
“Averi wrote a lot of poetry, and I think it is amazing,” says Roxanne Valdivieso, who lives with her family in Kill Devil Hills.
Averi penned this poem, titled “Believe,” when she was 13.
“When you are lost
Do not lose hope
When fear is present
Do not lose courage
When all is gone
Do not lose faith
just hold on.
When war arrives
Do not lose peace
When hate has come
Do not lose love
it’s always there
When life is gone
Have hope, courage, faith, peace, and love
God is here.”
Valdivieso began making “cancer awareness” bracelets to pass the time while waiting in the hospital during Averi's treatments. The bracelets sold briskly, and they remain popular to this day. She continues to sell them, and all proceeds benefit St. Baldricks.
Then in 2007, Valdivieso’s husband, Eddie, had Averi shave his head for St. Baldrick’s. In 2013, her son Ethan and a buddy went bald for the cause.
“I always had in the back of my mind I was going to do it, but I chickened out,” Valdivieso says.
As the 10-year anniversary of Averi’s passing approached, Hannah told her mom she thought the two of them should shave their heads in her honor.
“I hadn’t realized she was interested in doing that,” Valdivieso says. “How can I say no?”
They began soliciting funds in September during Childhood Cancer Awareness Month. They are taking pledges up to and beyond March 12, when Roxanne and daughter Hannah will “shave our golden locks.”
Valdivieso sees it as a way to help families who face similar battles, and she appreciates any amount and any type of support.
“These children deserve so much more and deserve so much better,” Valdivieso says. “The side effects are so horrible. There has to be a better treatment and a better way. I just want to help other children not have to go through what my daughter did.”
Valdivieso still feels the connection to her daughter.
“There is no boundary between her and me,” she says. “I’ll set the intention–all right girl I want a sign from you today.”
Inevitably, a sign appears, in a personal and private way.
“People might say I’m crazy, but in my heart I know. I like to give that hope to other people, that your loved one is still reaching out, sending signs, and is still there for you, a part of your life.”
She continues to experience the blessings of having Averi in her life. She started practicing Reiki to help her daughter get through the difficult treatments, and now teaches classes on Reiki and as well as mixed media.
“I believe she is still touching lives,” she says. “I know how she has changed people. Her writing about her illness brought people together, and people tell me all the time how much her poetry means to them.”
Averi’s own words tell her story best, as in the final stanza from one of her final poems:
‘My heart tells me these steps are just not right
Somewhere else there is a much brighter light
So I turn around and change my direction
And walk into the bright light that is called heaven
Step by step
We walk away
farther and farther
from where we started yesterday’
Even with her diagnosis, Averi remained positive to the last. In her subsequent journal entries, she was still imagining life with her redheaded Brit: “We shall adopt two girls from Sweden and travel the world before we die. Nothing is too far out of reach.”
She left the world with profound advice:
‘I’ve had my ups and downs, as has everyone else. But I’m an optimistic person, and I’m always looking ahead because every day has the opportunity to be even better than the last.
Lastly, never go through life not knowing who you are. You’ll regret never knowing a truly amazing person. Live life to its fullest and never back down.
Peace and love, Averi"