Public relations companies usually promote businesses and clients, but this month Ahwatukee-based Orca Communications took time out to spread the news about one of their own in hopes of raising funds to pay for her daughter’s cancer treatments.

Four-year-old Teeja, daughter of Tana Johnson, was diagnosed with Stage 3 Neuroblastoma on May 25, 2012. For weeks before the diagnosis Teeja had been in a lot of pain, but several doctors told her parents it was nothing more than a virus. When Johnson massaged her daughter’s stomach and felt something hard, she knew it wasn’t right. A week later they started the first chemo treatments.

“It was really quite a blur,” Johnson said.

Because Orca uses a virtual office Johnson was able to continue working at her daughter’s bedside as they sought treatment for her cancer. Her colleagues donated their time off so Johnson could take time off during her daughter’s surgeries and they also collected funds among themselves. Still, the group wanted to do more.

“We’ve watched as they battled this war for 15 months,” said Orca’s Senior Vice President Julie Simon. “Battling cancer is emotionally exhausting but it’s certainly financially exhausting, too. A colleague brought me the idea of possibly going to our clients and seeing if they might donate a product to an online silent auction, all proceeds going to Tana and her family. There was some hesitation, did we really want to put that burden on our clients?”

Ultimately, Orca staff decided to give the silent auction idea a chance. They decided to send out just one email to clients asking them to donate items to the cause. The response was surprising.

Several clients donated items for the company’s silent auction and many donated not just one, but 10 items, Simon said. Once it was all said and done the group was able to raise an additional $4,000 to help the Johnsons.

“I didn’t realize how big people’s hearts could be and how generous everyone could be when this all happened,” Johnson said. “What’s interesting is we’re all a virtual community. I’ve only met a handful of my colleagues, but we’re online every day with each other. I’m astounded by the support they’ve given me. They make it work so I can keep my job and keep my health care throughout this experience.”

Teeja is now considered “no evidence of disease,” which she has been for about a year ever since a surgery to remove the tumor. She will still have to go through another year and a half of treatment and won’t be considered in remission until five years after surgery.

Throughout the battle Johnson said she’s learned a few things. First, she’s grateful for her coworkers and the community of clients who’ve offered to help during a difficult time. She’s also learned from her daughter to keep moving forward.

“Teeja was never told that she’s sick,” Johnson said. “She was told that she had some bad cells she needed removed. We never wanted to give her that mindset that something was wrong although, clearly, there is something wrong. She just amazes us with her resiliency and her ability to just keep playing and keep a positive attitude. She cries, she throws tantrums, she gets upset about all the things we have to do from the pokes and prods and tests, but when she’s done she moves on and she plays and is ready to do something else. That’s a really important thing to take with you in life. A lot of times you want to hold grudges, but Teeja doesn’t do that. She just moves on.”

Orca’s silent auction is over, but donations can still be submitted to the Johnson family through a Go Fund Me Site at

• Contact writer: (480) 898-7914 or

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