Ariella Stein was only 11 when she died on May 9 after battling Ewing’s sarcoma, a rare but aggressive form of bone cancer, for more than two years. Still, the positive impact she had on this world will be felt for decades to come.
Hundreds of friends, family members and others packed Baltimore Hebrew Congregation on May 13 for an hour-long funeral for Ariella. A Pikesville resident and sixth grade student at Beth Tfiloh Dahan Community School, Ariella was mourned and remembered for her determination to help and inspire other children battling cancer, as well as for her unbridled love for life.
“How does a mom say goodbye forever to her young daughter?” Erica Davidson Stein, Ariella’s mother, wrote in a letter read during the service. “This is so wrong and so unfair.”
Ariella was first diagnosed with Ewing’s sarcoma in February of 2017 when a tumor was discovered in her right tibia. She underwent 17 rounds of chemotherapy. In June of that year, Ariella also underwent a limb salvage surgery in which a portion of her tibia was removed and an external fixator was placed to assist her as a new bone grew in its place.
Despite the sickness, long hospitalizations and chemotherapy, Ariella remained determined not only to beat the disease but ensure that other children facing similar battles experienced some joy and normalcy during their treatments. This led her to create Ari’s Bears, a foundation established under the auspices of the American Childhood Cancer Organization. The foundation, which she helped start with her own money, is set up to deliver stuffed bears to children in hospitals.
Ari’s Bears has distributed hundreds of bears to such hospitals as Sinai and Johns Hopkins — where Ariella was treated — along with the University of Maryland Medical Center and the Ronald McDonald House. Many bears have been delivered to hospitalized children outside of the state as well.
“We are so extremely proud of you,” Davidson Stein wrote in her letter. “Through everything, you kept your smile, your sass, your sense of humor, your spunk. You advocated for childhood cancer awareness, you showed empathy to others, you started Ari’s Bears and you delivered bears to other sick children, even when you yourself were fighting cancer. You were kind to everyone you met. Your smile and laugh were contagious.”
Kelly Beck, manager of the child life and creative arts program at Sinai Hospital, said Ariella started Ari’s Bears with Build-a-Bear gift cards. She received the gift cards from the Hope for Henry Foundation during her initial treatments at Sinai.
“Despite all of the challenges she faced, Ariella wanted to put smiles on the faces of other sick children at the hospital,” Beck said. “She inspired so many, including myself and all of the medical staff that cared for her. Whatever we can do to help spread the word about Ari’s Bears we will try to do, to ensure Ariella’s work and legacy will continue.”
Ariella initially completed chemotherapy in December of 2017, and there was hope that she beat the odds. But a routine scan last June showed that the cancer returned to her lungs and sacrum.
Even in the face of such grim news, Ariella remained optimistic and continued to pursue her greatest passion — dance.
“While everyone around us was scared, you fought this beast head-on and beat it not once but twice,” her father, David Stein, said in his eulogy. “I hope you know you’re stronger than cancer. You fought this beast to the very end, never giving up and showing you were stronger.
“On the day we found out you relapsed, we were all devastated,” he said. “But after spending a few moments by yourself, you came downstairs and told us you wanted to go to your dance recital. … You hit that stage and brought joy to everyone that was devastated that day.”
During the funeral, Ariella’s friends, members of her dance troupe and others recalled how she made them laugh, brought joy to their lives and helped make them better human beings.
“You have touched so many lives around us [and] all around the globe with your heart, passion, smile, energy and love for everyone,” her father said. “You never cared where people came from, what they looked like or anything else. You just wanted to make people happy and feel good about themselves.”
Dr. Jason M. Fixler was Ariella’s oncologist while she was treated at Sinai Hospital. He said he was constantly amazed and inspired by her spirit and determination.
“That type of mindset is something you only see in a child,” he said. “Even in the face of adversity, Ariella remained positive. That’s not something most adults can wrap their minds around. Ariella was just so resilient. She’d take a punch and jump right back up. She never said, ‘Woe is me,’ or even, ‘Why me?’ She was determined to beat cancer right until the end.”
During the service, Ariella’s parents said they plan to keep her memory and legacy alive by continuing the work of Ari’s Bears.
“I can’t believe I won’t get to see that smile, hear that laugh, hear your voice or feel your arms around me anymore,” Davidson Stein wrote. “You made friends wherever you went and touched thousands of people all over the world. I want you to know the impact you had. Your life, though way, way too short, was not in vain. You truly made the world a better place.”
Besides her parents, Ariella is survived by her grandparents, Sherrie Stein, Sheldon Stein and Carol Davidson; her great-grandmother, Niecy Burkett; and aunts, uncles and cousins.
Contributions in Ariella’s memory may be sent to American Childhood Cancer Foundation (note Ari’s Bears on memo line), 6868 Distribution Drive, Beltsville, Md. 20705, or 1 Million 4 Anna, 15301 Dallas Parkway, #1100, Addison, Tex. 75001.
For information about Ari’s Bears, visit acco.org/arisbears/.
Ron Snyder is a Baltimore-based freelance writer.