A couple of years ago, Long Beach resident Layla Ali-Ahmad quit a comfortable engineering job to pursue her passion, eventually leading to the launch of the city’s first food tour company Downtown in 2016.
The road to Beach City Food Tours was not easy, however. Ali-Ahmad, 30, underwent chemotherapy and a bilateral mastectomy after she was diagnosed with stage three breast cancer in 2014.
She was in remission when she began to lead locals and visitors alike on a food exploration of Downtown eateries like George’s Greek Cafe and The Pie Bar. She would also highlight the history behind some of the nearby architecture.
These tours have not only helped expose food establishments but other types of businesses along the Pine Avenue corridor.
“Even though I’m not directly benefiting [from the tours], I benefit because she’s bringing activity where my business is located,” said Gio Ferraro, owner of Groundwork Fitness on Pine, between Third and Fourth streets.
Ferraro said she remembers how excited she was when Ali-Ahmad first came to her with just the concept of the food tour. Ferraro at that time was president of the Historic Pine Avenue Business Association.
“I said ‘Yes, this is awesome!,” Ferraro said.
But in early 2017 Ali-Ahmad was diagnosed with stage four breast cancer and found out that it spread to her hips, ribs, spine and femurs, according to her friend Amy Yamaguchi. In late September of this year, the cancer spread to her liver—elevating Ali-Ahmad’s status to life threatening.
After endless research, Ali-Ahmad’s twin sister found alternative treatments meant to make traditional therapies more effective. This led Ali-Ahmad, and her sister and mother, to Vienna for immunotherapy treatments. It stabilized the cancer in the bones but was not able to prevent its spread to the liver, according to Yamaguchi.
The trio is now in Florida beginning a promising combination immunotherapy cancer treatment that is expected to last 10 to 12 weeks. Depending on the results, Ali-Ahmad will most likely need to stay on a lifelong supplement regimen and oral medication with the possibility of periodic “maintenance” treatments, according to Yamaguchi.
All the therapies in Vienna have been paid for out of pocket—and incredibly expensive but the family never once sought financial help, Yamaguchi said. With the next round of treatments and medication expected to be just as expensive and seeing the urgency of receiving treatment, Ali-Ahmad’s family ultimately allowed Yamaguchi to launch a fundraiser.
“Deciding to create this fundraiser for Layla felt like the one really helpful thing I could do for her and her family,” Yamaguchi said.
The fundraiser is about $40,000 shy of reaching the $100,000 mark. Yamaguchi said the funds will go towards her immunotherapy treatment, housing and travel expenses as well as medication and supplements.
“Layla loves the city of Long Beach, and she has been supporting its restaurants, eateries and bars with her food and cocktail tours, social media efforts, blog posts and Dine LBC for several years now,” said Terri Henry, Dine LBC founder. “At this crucial time, I’d love to see Long Beach foodies support her right back by contributing to her fundraiser to help with treatment, sending positive thoughts or prayers, or whatever you feel comfortable doing.”
Ferraro meanwhile has been reaching out to all the establishments Ali-Ahmad has promoted either through her business or Instagram feed with over 13,000 followers. “We’re approaching the holidays and I can’t think of anything else to do than to get this funded,” Ferraro said. “She’s an amazing person. She’s got a great heart and a great soul.”
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