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East TN community rallies behind 5-year-old diagnosed with cancer

A 5-year-old diagnosed with cancer has a dream to visit Universal Studios in Hollywood. A nonprofit from California and the community is trying to help.

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Playing in water was one of Penn Hazuda's favorite things. At least up until he was diagnosed with cancer. 

Penn is a 5-year-old diagnosed with Relapsed High-Risk B-Cell Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia. 

His parents, Eric and Jessica Hazuda, said Penn used to have lots of energy and loved the water. He used to like taking long baths and anything that had to do with water. 

They used to put on music, Eric recalls, and his son would immediately start dancing. Now, he's battling for his life and things have changed.

"He went from being our water baby to being terrified to even get a shower," Jessica said. "So, now he is fearful of water because he associates water with having to get a sticker change and... which he doesn't mind those are painful."

Penn was 3 years old when he was first diagnosed and his parents said chemotherapy started soon thereafter. While Penn battled leukemia, he became fatigued and needed to rest more and more. 

On Jan. 20, 2023, it was the third time he relapsed.

"Hearing a diagnosis like that, nothing prepares you, I don't care what personality type you are, you're not going to be prepared for that kind of news," Eric said. "You used to be able to put on like, we put on music and he would just like, he would like to shake his butt."

Penn started watching a lot of Super Mario Brothers online while in bed at the hospital. That's what gave birth to his dream of visiting Super Mario World. 

"He started telling me 'Mom, I want to go to Mario world,'" Jessica said.

That's when Penn's parents found the nonprofit organization, Campaign One At A Time. Its mission is to support children battling severe illnesses.

Right now, it's raising funds for Penn's dream.  

"We provide joy by making their biggest dreams come true," said Nick Ordonez, campaign director of Campaign One At A Time. "So for Penn, it's a dream trip to Universal Studios, here in California."

Credit: Jessica Hazuda

Penn's neighbors from East Tennessee are rallying behind his dream.

“I would like to add that it goes beyond Tennessee," Jessica said. "We're originally from Pennsylvania. They've done so much for us as well. People we've never even met have... prayed for us.”

The road to recovery also includes a bone marrow transplant from Pryce, Penn's 8-year-old big brother. 

"[Pryce] calls it his superhero bone marrow," Eric said. "He says, 'I need to give Penn my superhero bone marrow."' 

The nonprofit said, it's trying to raise $5000 for the trip and 100% of that will go towards Penn's dream. It will be for him and his family.

Any dollar that goes above, goes to their dream bank, which helps other kids.

As for young Penn, the family said they keep their hope and faith close to their hearts. 

"He's going to beat this cancer and it's going to be amazing," Eric said. "So, he's gonna have a story to tell, I promise and he's going to tell it." 

If you would like to learn more about how you can help Penn fulfill his dream, you can visit their website here

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