*Thank you very much, Ken Carvalho for sharing this story with me and for allowing me to share it here. You have one hell of a tough young lady on your hands! And Bella, congratulations! You are a true inspiration!*
This is a story about a brave young lady that overcame unimaginable circumstances, facing off with and beating a devastating medical situation with a determination and fearlessness few among us could match. And along the way, she also became the “Princess of The Grand National Roadster Show!"
Bella was your normal little girl, doing normal little girl things like going to school, playing, having fun and spending time with her friends. She also spent a lot of time in the garage with me. She was learning to use my cheap shrinker/stretcher, bead roller, and as a weldor by trade I was also teaching her how to weld. I had a beat up’32 sedan I was trying to get built (a sedan so me, the wife, and Bella could all ride together), and she was out there regularly hanging out and building it along with me.
In the spring of 2014, at 8 years old, she was having some pains. With her diagnosis thru an MRI, it turned out that she had BPDNC, a blood and bone cancer, typically found in very old men, so it was an extremely rare (1 of 34 known cases) form for a child, and typically the treatment in older men is worse than the cancer itself, so not usually treated in the normal cancer treatment way. The bottom line was, we were told, that she was considered terminal!!
In an instant, my entire life collapsed. I closed up the garage, blocked all of social media, and immersed myself in work and booze. Basically, struggled to just get thru the days.
I will bypass most all of the hospital specifics for the sake of this story, as it doesn’t add to it. But during her treatments, which were basically heavy and invasive doses of chemotherapy, she surprisingly responded very well to them and was ultimately able to beat it. Of course, I'm paraphrasing a lengthy, ongoing process that took place over the course of several years, but that’s the jest of it.
During the time Bella was enduring these awful treatments, something unbelievable began happening: The Hotrod and Lowrider world (which I’m involved in both) started to reach out, asking about Bella, and how they could help or provide support.
The first event put together was called, “Bella meets the Bay”, where a friend named Tyler Pullen put together a show for her at a sports stadium in San Francisco. (I’m not a "sports guy" so have no idea which stadium it was) We drove down in our RV. It was a GREAT turnout, and we had a bunch of fun. We met Dave Tanimura, Alex and Suzi Gambino, as well as Tyler’s club members. Bella was the center of attention in a vast sea of Hotrods, Lowriders, and even a few Harleys. There were even several rival gang members in attendance that incredibly put their differences aside to support her. That was pretty intense when I found that out.
We then stayed the night at the Gambino’s and went on to meet Darryl and Terri Hollenbeck. I had met them before in passing at GNRS when I went down with the Inland Emperors of Spokane, when John Gunsaulis showed his Roadster, but I only really knew of Terri’s dad, Andy Brizio because of my love affair with T-Buckets. They showed us around, we hung out and Darryl had her pose with his AMBR winning’32 roadster while it was still in the paint stage.
Fast forward to GNRS…. We went down without telling anyone and just showed up and said, “surprise”!!! Then the magic happened. She/we were invited into the hall of fame breakfast, and Dave Shuten graciously let her into ALL the cars in the Galpin booth! (I have several pics of her sitting in the cars with the “look but don’t touch” sign in the shot, which was pretty funny.)
Then she was even invited on stage to help pass out quite a few of the trophies of the class winners. The pinup contest winner, Jenny Dame literally took the Tierra that she had just won off of her head and gave it to Bella. That was a big deal for a little girl!
The Austin Speed Shop guys, especially Rocco, took a shine to her and even gave us a special invitation to The Lone Star Roundup from Steve and Brian. The South City Rod and Custom guys, Bill and Donny let her climb into the newly finished Bill Breece coupe, we met and became close friends with Troy Ladd and his wonderful lady, Davida from Hollywood Hot Rods, and enjoyed all the normal crazy antics of the GNRS night life. Then without us knowing, a fund was started, and we were handed a wad of money and promptly sent to Disney Land for 2 days, which wasn’t in the original plans.
Several shows, GNRS’s, and years pass, and along the way, there were a couple of hiccups with her treatments, but we got through them. I even took a job in Los Angeles, as SoCal is where I grew up and we wanted to live down there, but then, unbelievably, I was also diagnosed with Cancer.
I came back to Spokane, did my treatment and surgery and now all is good. For a father/daughter project, her and I built a 70’s inspired Manx style Dune Buggy. I taught her to paint, and she painted it herself. We really had a blast doing that.
Somewhere along the way, I realized I just couldn't swing it financially to finish my ‘32 Sedan, as cancer treatments are extremely expensive, so instead, I trade it off for a running and driving T-Bucket and we were just enjoying the Hot Rod scene again!!
Then one day I get a phone call from Troy Ladd and he discusses with me a TV show he is a part of where they build cars for people. In this conversation, Troy asked me if I could feel out what Bella would truly love as a Hot Rod for her and I to enjoy. (How crazy is this??)
So, I ask her in a roundabout way, and she tells me that her favorite is Darry and Terri’s ‘32... I said fuck, of all the Hotrods in the world to choose from, she picks the most expensive and iconic one there is…. I pass that along to Troy, who happens to specialize in building’32 roadsters, and he says “ok, we’ll see”.
Well after a while I get the word that it's a go! The show is called “The Ride That Got Away,” if anyone is interested in watching it. So, they get to work on this beautiful Hotrod for us, and I’m even lucky enough to be able to be a part of the build. It is painted gold in honor of childhood cancer, has a built Y-Block that our friend Tim McMaster (The Y-block Guy) built for us, and Ken from Brookville Roadster donated the body and frame for it.
It’s won a couple of trophies, and I pull it out around May every year and Bella and I drive it around as much as possible (of course, until it gets too cold—remember I’m a SoCal guy!) until around late October, when I winterize it until the following May when we do it all over again. It has become a cherished ritual and the car itself is a representation of an overwhelmingly positive side of what was a terrible situation. I can't begin to express how amazing the car community truly is and how amazing and humbling it was to watch so many people come together in support of my daughter, Bella. It has been an experience neither of us will ever forget.
*Side note* After a bunch of the back and forth with Ken preparing for this article, toward the end, he sent me another email explaining that he had forgotten to include something important. Not knowing where in the story to place it, I decided to put it right here! This is what Ken said in a panicky, "Oh shit, don't forget about this" kind of way! (You get a pass, Ken, there is a lot going on in this story!)
"The next year's GNRS that we went to, we met and were invited to Aaron Kahan's (Burbank Choppers) house where we met and had a BBQ with several of the club members. I got to sit in his chopped Model T, "Bad News," which is one of my all time favorite T's. The following summer, Bella got to go to a meet and greet concert in LA, and her and the wife went to visit Aaron and his family, and Aaron gave her a ride around town in Bad News!"
( TOO COOL ! )