Saving Children, One Cup at a Time

Heal, Fall 2007, Volume 1, Issue 2

A simple lemonade stand started by 4-year-old Alex Scott seven years ago has resulted in more than $12 million donated to research in childhood cancers.

Right before 4-year-old Alexandra Scott went into the hospital in early 2000 for a stem cell transplant to check the spread of her neuroblastoma — a cancer of the nerve tissue usually affecting children under 5 — she told her parents that she wanted to set up a lemonade stand when she got out of the hospital.

According to Jay Scott, the foundation is supported both by families of children who have passed away and by childhood cancer survivors, their family members and friends who are looking to make a contribution to finding cures for childhood cancers and to stay connected to the cancer community. That’s what Maddy Lewis, now 11, wanted to do when her mother, Catherine, first told her about Lemonade Days three years ago.

Catherine showed Maddy the Alex’s Lemonade Stand website, where she saw a photo of Alex in a wheelchair. “It was hard for her to understand that you got that sick from neuro­blastoma, and she wanted to do something,” says Catherine.

When Maddy was diagnosed with stage 3 neuroblastoma at age 4, her oncologist recommended treating the disease as if it were stage 4 because of the high rate of recurrence. The doctor suggested a treatment regimen that included a double stem cell transplant, followed by eight rounds of high-dose chemotherapy and 15 rounds of radiation. Although Maddy tolerated the treatment well, she lost 70 percent of her hearing and has to rely on hearing aids and lip reading to understand what people are saying. Now in remission, Maddy was so excited when she learned about what Alex Scott did that she wanted to hold a Lemonade Day, too, Catherine says. Her first one was held in June 2004, and she’s had one every year since, raising more than $16,000.

“I really want to raise money to help children with cancer,” says Maddy, who adds that it makes her feel “really happy, and I feel like I’m accomplishing something, and I feel good about myself.” Maddy wants to be a nurse when she grows up, so she can help other children battling cancer.

Although Catherine; Maddy’s father, Michael; and her eight siblings are all involved in helping make their annual Lemonade Day a success — Maddy’s brother Jeremiah even donates four tickets to a New England Patriots football game to raffle at the event — Catherine says the day belongs to Maddy, who is so intent on making sure everything goes smoothly, she won’t let anyone else do the lemonade pouring. The Amesbury, Mass., event has become a community affair, with local businesses donating cartons of ready-made lemonade and other supplies.

Catherine says it’s important for survivors and the families of survivors to consider getting involved in fundraising events like Lemonade Days to raise money and to also spread the good news about the progress that’s being made in the treatment of childhood cancers. “Childhood cancers are so hard to fight, and people see all the bad stuff that happens, but they don’t often see the good that medicine is doing,” says Catherine. Adding that it’s important for people to know about the treatment advancements, she says, “I don’t know what Maddy’s future is, but we know that if we don’t have research and if we don’t have people [willing to raise money for cancer research], these kids are doomed.”

The foundation also receives significant support outside of families touched by childhood cancer, Jay Scott notes. Although there are no exact figures on the number of cups of lemonade that have been sold so far in Alex’s Lemonade Stand Days events, Jay estimates the figure is in the millions.

“At the time we didn’t know why Alex wanted to have a lemonade stand and it was January in Connecticut, and we said when it warms up you can have a lemonade stand,” says Jay Scott, Alex’s father. As the months ticked by and she recovered from the transplant, she kept talking about having a lemonade stand. When her mother, Liz, asked her what she wanted to buy with the money, she said: “I’m not keeping the money. I want to help the doctors find a cure,” Jay recounts.

That July, Alex raised $2,000 selling lemonade in the first of what has become an annual event known nationwide as Alex’s Lemonade Stand Days. By 2004, the summer event had become so well-known that it raised $1 million that year for childhood cancers. Two months later, Alex died.

“When Alex was alive she gave us two directives,” says Jay. “One was that the money raised fund research for not only her type of childhood cancer but that it fund research for all types of childhood cancers.” The year after Alex’s death, the Scotts established the Alex’s Lemonade Stand Foundation, which has raised more than $12 million and funds 47 cancer research projects at 30 institutions.

When her mother asked Alex what she wanted to buy with the money, she said: “I’m not keeping the money. I want to help the doctors find a cure.”

To share Alex's story and inspire other children, her parents wrote the 2004 children's book Alex and the Amazing Lemonade Stand. Among its verses: "At the end of the day Alex was happy and amazed / to learn how much money her lemonade had raised. / She also learned / something else that was true. / Other people cared about sick kids too."

For information about organizing your own Alex's Lemonade Stand Days event, see www.alexslemonade.org and click on Get Involved, where you can register to host your own event or make a donation.