EVERETT — There are photos of Phenyx and Zoe as babies. Their grandparents were neighbors and close friends in Everett. Their mothers are like sisters. Their families have been through a lot, together.
Zoe’s mom doesn’t recall much about the days after she lost her son, Knox, to sudden infant death syndrome, when he was 4 months old in 2009. Some of her clearest memories are of her friend and former babysitter Nicole Andolsek spending time with her, just being there, helping with basic things — laundry, dishes, whatever would make it easier for Dawn.
“The pain of losing a child literally cannot compare to anything,” Dawn Bennett said. “Not only does it make you crazy, it makes you look for reasons to keep living. Zoe was that reason for us.”
Zoe, 10, is a bit younger than Nicole’s daughter, Phenyx. The girls would often play with the family dogs, while their parents chatted. They played soccer, too. But that stopped when doctors figured out what was causing Phenyx to go cross-eyed. She was diagnosed with mesenchymal chondrosarcoma, a rare form of cancer in her skull. Surgeons removed about three-quarters of the tumor in October 2016. Part of it remained, wrapped around a cranial nerve.
Online fundraisers raised tens of thousands of dollars for the family — but the Andolseks said they still spend up to $2,000 a month for Phenyx’s MRIs, a special diet and other nontraditional treatments that are not covered by insurance. There is no standard way to manage the cancer, and the effectiveness of radiation therapy to fight it “remains controversial,” according to a study published in 2015. The Andolseks sold their home in Lake Stevens, in large part to cover medical bills.
Zoe, a student at Marshall Elementary School in Marysville, wanted to help. She came up with the idea to bake dog treats with her mom, to raise money for the Andolseks.
Both of the girls love animals. And Zoe had learned to make gluten-free, high-protein snacks for her dog Grizzly, 4, a chihuahua and pug mix, or “chug,” who has food allergies. If he eats chicken, Zoe said, his tail goes bald. (She would make birthday cake and ice cream for her dog, if she could, according to her mom.)
“He is spoiled to the bone because of me,” Zoe said.
This week they spent days baking their recipe — peanut butter and a few secret ingredients that include “a little girl’s love,” Dawn said — that they cut into heart and bone shapes. They used to carve words like “sit” into them by hand, until the batches got too big. They plan to sell the treats at the Dream Builders car show Sunday, at Evergreen Speedway in Monroe.
The Bennetts are into cars, and go to the shows often. Zoe hopes to repeat the kind of unexpected success she had at the Hot Rods and Hogs car show earlier this month in Maltby, when the host let her make her pitch over the microphone. She told the crowd her goal was to make $100 for her friend, and explained the back story. One man who made a purchase told Zoe that his mother died of cancer four days earlier. By the end of the day she had raised more than $1,300.
Total, she has brought in about double that amount in the past months, one $3 bag at a time. She has taken orders from faraway places like Kentucky. On her Instagram, @bark4a cause, she posts faces of satisfied canine customers.
The Andolseks uprooted to Colorado about a year ago, to a home west of Denver. They’ve stayed in touch with the Bennetts over FaceTime. Since the surgery, Phenyx has been having seizures. Removing most of the tumor relieved pressure that was causing Phenyx’s eye problems, but it left a scar on her head.
“Oh, I didn’t notice,” Zoe said, earnestly, when her mother mentioned it.
Dawn Bennett describes Phenyx’s mom as like her big sister. Nicole Andolsek uses the same word to describe Dawn.
“We just have kind of been like that for each other,” Nicole said. “It’s not like me being there for her, or her being there for me. It’s just (how it is), right?”
The same goes for their daughters.
“They have a lot in common,” Phenyx’s mom said. “They’re both go-getters.”
Caleb Hutton: 425-339-3454; firstname.lastname@example.org. Twitter: @snocaleb.
Want to help?
Find Zoe at the Dream Builders car show, which runs from 10 a.m. Sunday at the Evergreen Speedway, 14405 179th Ave. SE. The show itself is a benefit for Big Brothers Big Sisters of Snohomish County. Go to dreambuilderscarshow.com.
And you can find out more about Zoe’s treats at barkforacausedogtreats.com.