Calling all angels: Inspired by their own experience, siblings launch nonprofit to support families battling melanoma
Tyler and Tricia Halstead grew up quickly, in a home centered around a mother who spent her last decade dying of melanoma.
“We did not have what you would call a normal childhood,” said Tricia, 27, now an attorney living in Huntington Beach. “But our mom made it as normal as possible by developing a support group to take care of us when she couldn’t.”
Her parents, Travis and Cindy Halstead, called the posse their “angel network.”
“Whenever Cindy had to go into the hospital, she sent out an email: ‘Calling all angels,’” Travis Halstead, 53, recalled. “Cindy orchestrated it all, pulling together friends, family and neighbors. They would drive the kids to sports and cheer practice, bring over meals, you name it. The angel network provided our children stability.”
Now, 10 years after their mother’s death, Tricia and Tyler Halstead want to recreate that infrastructure for families who might not otherwise have access to so much help. At a fundraiser scheduled for Saturday, March 16, at Dodger Stadium, the siblings will launch their new organization, Melanoma Angel Network.
The nonprofit was Tyler’s brainchild. Lying awake in bed last summer, he experienced, in his words, “a come-to-Jesus moment.”
“I thought, ‘Am I honoring my mom? Am I doing enough?’ At that point, the answer was no,” said Tyler, 29, a business developer for Sony Studios in Los Angeles.
He began imagining a master organizer of sorts that would assist families like his with carpooling, grocery shopping and other essentials that keep a household ticking. “The next thing I knew, I had started a (nonprofit) corporation,” Tyler said.
In 1999, Cindy Halstead discovered she had anemia after donating blood. Further tests detected stage 4 melanoma that originated in an unnoticed mole on her tailbone. The cancer had spread to her lymph nodes.
Doctors gave Halstead only a few months to live. Her children were still in elementary school when she had to explain to them she was dying. But, with good days and bad, she hung on until her daughter was 17 and her son 19.
“Battling cancer became her full-time job,” said Tricia.
It also transformed her young children into caregivers. “I learned to read imaging scans so I would know exactly how much the tumors had grown,” Tricia said. “After school, I’d run into my mom’s room to change her bandages.”
The siblings needed to be “nimble, dynamic and fluid” depending on ever-changing circumstances, Tyler said. “If that means going to stay with grandma and grandpa for a while, that’s what it is,” he said.
Meanwhile, their father worried he couldn’t give his kids the attention they deserved.
“My focus was on my wife,” said Travis Halstead, an electrician who still lives in the family’s La Mirada home. “And at the same time, I was trying to hold down a job.”
That’s where the angel network came in.
“When Mom and Dad couldn’t be there for us, we had 25 other adults involved in our lives,” Tricia said.
Cindy Halstead died at age 44 when her daughter was a high school senior.
“It was like, ‘Now what do we do with ourselves?’ We had to reestablish norms,” Tyler said.
He and his sister both would graduate from Chapman College in Orange, where Tyler played on the football team. He returned there for an MBA while Tricia earned a law degree at the University of Illinois. In April, she will join the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s office as a deputy district attorney.
“We were always good students who never got into trouble – partly because we did not want to create another burden for our mom,” Tricia said. “I thought, ‘If she’s fighting cancer, the least I can do is bring home good grades.’”
Not only did her mom’s illness give her a sense of responsibility, it also left her hyper-aware of the dangers of melanoma.
“I carry a bottle of sunscreen with me and I’m always spraying my friends,” Tricia said. “I can’t help but study people’s skin and say, ‘Get that checked out.’”
Choking up, Travis Halstead marveled at the success of his children – and their determination to give back.
“All the credit goes to Cindy,” he said. “She had so much on her plate and still raised these incredible kids. She is smiling down at them.”
Want to go?
The inaugural gala for Melanoma Angel Network takes place from 5:30 to 9:30 p.m. Saturday, March 16, at Dodger Stadium, 1000 Vin Scully Ave., Los Angeles. Tickets are $150. For more information, go to melanomaangelnetwork.org.