MIAMI (CBSMiami) – A South Florida father is on a nearly week-long journey, kayaking his way from Miami to Key West.

Oscar Ortiz has taken on the challenge to honor his son Sebastian’s legacy and help raise money for other children who are battling cancer.

“My kayak has pictures of children we lost to cancer,” Ortiz said. “One of them is my son right here on my left-hand side, where my heart is. I spend a lot of time talking to him.”

He’s paddling 160 miles in the span of seven days, with the mission of raising funds and awareness for pediatric cancer research.

Despite getting rocked by the waves and drenched in the rain, Ortiz is not deterred.

“This is a long, hard journey,” he said. “Chemotherapy is also brutally difficult.”

Ortiz lost his 16-year-old son Sebastian to Rhabdomyosarcoma, a rare form of cancer, in 2016. Through the whole process, he says he was saddened to see how few resources there were.

“My son only had one treatment option available to him. It was brutally toxic and brutally difficult,” Ortiz said. “It was 30 plus rounds of chemo, 23 radiations, four surgeries, and I lost him in 14 months.”

According to the National Pediatric Cancer Foundation, only four percent of the National Cancer Institute’s annual budget is directed toward childhood cancer research and treatment.

As a result, Ortiz started the organization Sebastian Strong, with a focus specifically on pediatric research funding. For the third year now, he’s teamed up with the group Castaways Against Cancer to complete the route. It was a goal he had hoped to complete with Sebastian.

“The plan was to do this together,” he said while holding back the tears. “We hoped he would recover and we could do this, but we never got the chance.”

Ortiz said he would like to see less toxic and more targeted treatments, saying what may work for an adult is not always the same for children.

Until then, he keeps paddling, driven by a desire to see a better future for children and teenagers going through what Sebastian did.

“He’s with me. He’s with me in spirit,” he said. “I hope he’s proud of me.”

This year, for the first time, Sebastian Strong has partnered with Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center a part of The University of Miami Health System. They will match everything raised by 100%.

If you want to donate, visit sebastianstrong.org.

Karli Barnett

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