Giving Back in Honor of Anya

Earlier this year, Sandra and Bob La Mar, founders of the Anya Elyse La Mar Foundation, established an endowment at UPMC Children’s to advance scientific discovery at the Mario Lemieux Institute for Pediatric Cancer Research.

The Anya Elyse La Mar Endowment honors the life and legacy of Sandra and Bob’s daughter, Anya, who passed away in 2016 after a two-year battle with Ewing sarcoma. The endowment in Anya’s name provides financial resources in perpetuity to further Ewing sarcoma research.

Anya’s story

Sandra and Bob share that their daughter, Anya, was smart, funny, sweet, and beautiful. With thick dark hair, deep brown eyes, and a touch of sass, Anya was the center of her parents’ world. Anya liked to dance and play softball with her friends. She enjoyed traveling, going to the beach, and hanging out crafting and playing games with her family and friends.

At age 9, Anya began having intermittent leg pain and had X-rays taken. When the pain became intense, her parents requested an MRI. Anya was diagnosed with Ewing sarcoma, a cancerous tumor that grows in the bones or soft tissue around the bones.

“We were devastated,” Sandra and Bob explain. “You never forget the moment — the clothes you had on, the smell of the room, how Anya then appeared to be so small. The room began to spin.”

Anya was immediately started on an aggressive treatment regimen. Over the next several months, she endured six rounds of chemotherapy, an operation to remove the tumor in her leg, and a lung biopsy. She required a prosthetic replacement of her right femur and partial hip, as well as eight additional rounds of chemotherapy once she stabilized.

“It was a long, painful, and emotional ten months,” her parents explain. “But in May 2015, Anya received her last chemotherapy over Mother’s Day weekend and was considered in remission. It was the best Mother’s Day gift ever.”

For the next year, Sandra, Bob, and Anya enjoyed life to its fullest — albeit a little slower than before. Anya’s prosthetic was uncomfortable, and she often required a cane or wheelchair. Nonetheless, they traveled, took day trips, and Anya got two new puppies — Champ and Brandy — whom she adored.

A year later, in May 2016, the cancer came back.

That December, things took a turn for the worse. Anya contracted a virus and developed a high fever.

On December 28, 2016, Sandra and Bob’s courageous, loving, joyful little girl passed away at UPMC Children’s after a 12-day hospitalization. She was 11 years old.

Giving Back

Determined to honor Anya’s life and legacy, Sandra and Bob established Anya’s Army-The Anya Elyse La Mar Foundation in 2021. The Foundation raises awareness and funding to support children and families impacted by Ewing sarcoma and the doctors who research for a cure.

With financial support from their dear friend, David Schwencke, the La Mars established the Anya Elyse La Mar Endowment at UPMC Children’s in 2024. The hospital’s first endowed fund for Ewing sarcoma research, the endowment will spin off distributed income year after year, providing consistent resources for researchers like Kelly Bailey MD, PhD. Dr. Bailey, a pediatric oncologist and physician-scientist renowned for her work in bone sarcomas, currently oversees the fund as co-director of the Lemieux Institute at UPMC Children’s.

According to Sandra and Bob, physician-scientists like Dr. Bailey are critical to advancing better outcomes for kids fighting Ewing sarcoma and other cancers. “Doctors are not only providing medical support,” Sandra and Bob say, “they are also devoting their time and effort to research sarcomas while elevating the need for more funding and visibility.”

The Inspiration for Everything

“Losing our beautiful daughter, Anya, is still surreal,” the La Mars explain. “But because of our tragic loss and because of what we’ve learned about this cancer, we want to help others.”

They continue, “We understand the impact of a child with cancer and the families affected. We created the Anya Elyse La Mar Foundation with the vision of a world where families are not devastated by losing a child to Ewing sarcoma.”

The newly established Anya Elyse La Mar Endowment at UPMC Children’s brings us another step closer to attaining that vision.

To make a gift to the endowment in Anya’s name and help fight childhood sarcomas, please click the button below and enter the “Anya Elyse La Mar Endowment” in the comments box.