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Community rallies around young family after daughter's cancer diagnosis

Chelsea Sallese works at a local hair salon and has volunteered several times at Coins Sports Bar, shaving people’s heads for fundraising events.

But this summer, Chelsea found herself on the other side of the clippers.

It was in June when Chelsea and Anthony Sallese learned that their daughter, Ava, now 4, had acute lymphoblastic leukemia, an uncommon type of blood and bone marrow cancer that affects the white blood cells.

“No parent wants to hear the 'C' word,” Chelsea said. “We were totally distraught.”

Andy Hawbaker, Ava’s biological father, is a bartender at Rustic Road Brewing Company. He said he got a call from Chelsea that they’d taken Ava to the doctor after her lips had turned blue and she had stomach problems.

After he learned about the diagnosis, “everything just changed.”

“It sucks, but we’re getting through it,” Andy said. “Ava’s always happy, so it’s hard to be sad around her.”

Despite the bad news, Chelsea said the community was quick to rally to the family's aid. Fundraisers at Kaiser’s Pizza, Khroma Nail Salon, Coins and numerous others places have all been organized for the young family’s benefit.

“It’s overwhelming,” Chelsea said. “We’re so proud to be a part of not only Kenosha, but the Downtown community.”

Chelsea said they take Ava to Children’s Hospital in Milwaukee for treatment two to three times a week. Although she understands she’s sick, Chelsea said Ava is still the upbeat girl from before.

“Her spirit is outstanding,” Chelsea said. “She’s still the same bubbly, goofy girl she always is.”

Andy was in agreement.

"She's almost more giggly, more uppity," he joked. "She's in good spirits."

Show of support

As her treatments began, Chelsea noticed that Ava was starting to lose her hair, a common side-effect of cancer treatments. In a Facebook post, Chelsea wrote that she decided to show her daughter “that she is never in this fight alone.”

On her front porch, with some help from friends, Chelsea had her own hair shaved off as she sat with her daughter.

Andy joined her, losing his mullet.

“It’s the least I could do, I figured,” Andy said.

Beyond expressing how grateful he was for the support from the community, Andy spoke glowingly about Chelsea and how she had handled the last few months.

“She’s one strong woman, she’s taking it like a champ,” Andy said. “She’s an amazing mom.”

Chelsea repeatedly voiced her gratitude to the community and local businesses. Alison Braver, a fellow hair stylist at Ruffalo's Hair Studio, raised over $5,000 alone  In total, Chelsea estimates the community has raised more than $32,000.

“We’re not scared anymore,” Chelsea said. “It’s just going to be a long road.”

The end of that road has a date: September 2023, when Ava is expected to receive her final treatment.

“Everything’s better each and every day,” Andy said.

Future events to help raise funds for Ava’s medical treatment include the Butterfly Effect Rally, to be held Oct. 9 at the Sandwich (Ill.) Moose Lodge. It’s open to the public and will offer food, a 50/50 raffle, a balloon pull with over 100 prizes and more.

Another fundraiser, “Pins & Strikes for Ava Lou!” at Sheridan Lanes, will be held Oct. 17 from 1 to 5 p.m. It will include food, face painting, auction items and a 50/50 raffle.


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