So. Tempe business helps kids with lifethreatening conditions jump back into good health

Axel Alcantar bounced through the front door of Lily’s Pad in Tempe on a recent Friday morning and, clad in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles PJs, beelined to an open, colorful playroom. There, the 4-year-old could climb on a jungle gym, bang drums at the performance stage, ring up groceries in the market, steer an electric fire truck, or choose from dozens of other activities in this indoor kids paradise.

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“Aside from his bald head,” said Axel’s mom Heather, “you would never guess this kid is going through what he’s going through. He has the best attitude, the best demeanor, and he has so much energy that, to him, he’s not even sick.” But Axel is, with a rare form of cancer called Alveolar Rhabdomyosarcoma, diagnosed in March 2023 in the muscle network between his right knee and groin. It metastasized to other parts of his body, and after 67 weeks of chemotherapy and 33 rounds of radiation, Axel is in the maintenance phase of his disease. Lily’s Pad has been a lifesaver for the preschooler and his family and for dozens of immunocompromised children battling cancer, cerebral palsy, congenital heart defects and other conditions.

“It has been such a blessing for us on so many levels,” said the Ahwatukee mom who also has an 8-year-old, Maverick. “It allows Axel to be a kid because everything is clean and safe, and he can play without a mask on. He says to me, ‘I want to live here.’”

Axel plays with fellow playmates and volunteers

Located in a strip mall at Southern Avenue and Priest Drive, the 5,300-square-foot suite comprises the playroom, monitored by parents, nursing students and volunteers, a large cafe, and smaller rooms where parents can work, talk or just be. To qualify, children must be referred by a physician or health care facility, but once they do, the entire family can visit Lily’s Pad whenever they like and at no cost. Ninety minute sessions, with a maximum of 10 children, are scheduled on Tuesdays, Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays, and some are reserved for one family at a time. Temperatures are taken before each session, and after, all surfaces are sanitized with industrial strength cleaner.

Since opening in August, Lily’s Pad has recorded nearly 400 play sessions, including those scheduled by Hope Kids, a Scottsdale-based organization supporting children with cancer and other life-threatening conditions. Local nursing college students have earned nearly 1,000 clinical hours while gaining an understanding of the needs of these special children and how nonprofits fill gaps in care. On any given day, younger kids are drawn to remote-controlled dinosaurs that fight each other or take turns careening down the slide, while older children choose from Pop-a-Shot basketball, foosball and air hockey.

“The siblings get forgotten a lot in this, and it’s nobody’s fault, because you’re trying to keep life normal, but you just can’t because everything revolves around the child who is sick,” Alcantar said. “Maverick has fun here, meeting other kids, and he feels like his life hasn’t totally stopped on a dime.” Lily’s Pad is named for Lily Taylor, who at age 3 was diagnosed with high-risk Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia in December 2017. She spent a month in the hospital before beginning 2-1/2 years of outpatient treatment, including chemotherapy which attacked the cancer and her immune system. Her parents struggled to find ways to keep her occupied, happy and both recovering from the disease and managing the psychological struggles of being isolated. Lily couldn’t even go to the park. Al Taylor, her grandfather, searched high and low for an indoor play center with high protocols for safety. Finding none, Taylor formed a nonprofit in 2019 with Lily’s dad, Brad, and his sister, Dawn Garza.

COVID-19 and other issues delayed the opening of Lily’s Pad, but Taylor has been amazed at the generosity of the community in doing so. Architekton of Tempe created the architectural plans pro bono, and other area companies donated work and equipment. Tempe fire and police donated an electric toy fire truck and toy police car, and various organizations have contributed other toys. Brick Road Coffee in Tempe supplies all the coffee and related supplies for the cafe. “You might never know the kids here are sick,” said Taylor, the CEO.

“They run, they play, they get to socialize with others in a hyper clean environment. It’s physically and mentally good for them. We’re giving these kids the opportunity to be kids again.” His own granddaughter, once a social butterfly whose cancer journey turned her into a shy child who feared crowds, noise and the chaos of school, is back to her earliest self. Now a fourth grader in Gilbert, Lily is an aspiring actress and dancer, but she carries with her memories of being sick.

“Her dad used to sing ‘Country Roads’ and play his guitar for her, and she remembers that,” Taylor said. “She doesn’t want to hear that song anymore.” The nonprofit currently operates on grants and contributions, and also holds periodic fundraisers. Its 2nd Annual Range Partee is slated for 5-9 p.m. on Saturday, April 13, at Dobson Ranch Golf Course in Mesa. Dinner, golf and a silent auction are planned.

For more information about Lily’s Pad, visit or call 480-576-7740.



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