Alex's Lemonade Stand Foundation Blog

Childhood cancer survivors like Tony, pictured above, have to be monitored for possible cardiac health side effects due to treatment.

Childhood cancer survivors are 7 times more likely to experience cardiac dysfunction at some point in their lives than other children. Harsh treatments from some types of high-dose chemotherapy and radiation therapy increase their risk of having an irregular heartbeat, weakening the heart muscle and even hardening of the arteries. 

This is one of the many reasons why childhood cancer research is so important—cures should not come at the cost of heart health. 

The good news: researchers are working every day to finder safer treatments that not only cure cancer but also leave children without devastating side effects. As science works towards this goal, here are 10 things you need to know about heart health and childhood cancer:

  1. Several types of treatment can put survivors at risk for cardiac dysfunction including a type of chemotherapy called anthracycline, radiation to the spine, torso or chest and high doses of a drug given in preparation for stem cell transplants. These therapies are used to treat a variety of cancers including leukemia, lymphoma, sarcomas, solid cell tumors and brain tumors. 
  2. Since the danger of long-term side effects increases with every dose and each treatment—oncologists will sometimes use another drug in conjunction with chemotherapy and radiation to protect the heart. 
  3. The younger the child is when treated, the more at risk for cardiac side effects. Children younger than 2 years old are at the highest risk.
  4. The damage caused by treatment can directly affect the heart muscle, leading to a condition called cardiomyopathy. Cardiomyopathy means the heart muscles cannot pump as well and if left untreated could lead to heart failure. 
  5. Radiation can cause a specific type of cardiomyopathy called restrictive cardiomyopathy—which means the heart muscle is not just weak, it is stiff and cannot adequately fill with blood. Radiation can also cause similar problems with the heart valves.
  6. Treatment for childhood cancer can put children at a higher risk of developing coronary artery disease, which leads to the hardening of the arteries that supply the heart.
  7. Children with cancer could be at risk of developing irregular heartbeats, called arrhythmia. 
  8. While the long-term cardiac side effects of some cancer therapies are well understood, the short-term side effects are not. Short-term side effects can affect children during treatment—causing delays and jeopardizing the effectiveness of therapy. 
  9. Even if childhood cancer survivors have no symptoms of cardiac damage, they need to be monitored annually to identify any potential changes that might indicate the onset of heart issues and affect normal life activities. 
  10. As more children are cured of cancer, researchers are continuing to study ways to give the right dose of therapies—enough to be effective at killing cancer; but not so much to cause short and long-term side effects.

Want to learn more about heart health and childhood cancer? Read our interview with Dr. Richard Alpenc, ALSF grantee and a member of our Scientific Advisory Board. Dr. Alpenc is studying the short-term side effects of cardiac dysfunction to understand what factors increase risks for children battling AML. Learn more here.

by Trish Adkins, ALSF

In Minnesota, there is a Vikings fan who really loves his team. A week before the division championship game, he won two Super Bowl tickets in a charity raffle, sponsored by Spare Key, a St. Paul, Minnesota charity that provides assistance to families with critically ill children.  He was sure his team would make it to the Super Bowl. If they did not, well, he’d give away his Super Bowl tickets to a fan who would love to see their team play. 

As everyone knows by now, the Vikings did not make it to the Super Bowl. 

Meanwhile, in New Jersey, childhood cancer hero Cole Fitzgerald has had the same wish every year for as long as anyone can remember: for the Eagles to win the Super Bowl.

He shares this wish every year at the ALSF Lemon Ball. Here it is nestled among other Hero and SuperSibs wishes around the Fountain of Wishes. 

This year Cole got his wish when the Eagles won the Super Bowl. What is amazing is how Cole got to see his wish come true. 

That fan in Minnesota stopped watching the NFC division championship game after the first half, unable to watch the carnage and feeling resigned to a certain loss. He began searching online for an Eagles fan who might appreciate the Super Bowl ticket. Somehow, he landed on and found Cole—this kid—who 11 years ago fought high-risk neuroblastoma and survived. Cole survived with football dreams—not just for his beloved team to win the big game--but for someday to be a part of professional football. Childhood cancer treatment and other health issues made it impossible for Cole to be a football player. So, Cole was already pursuing his dream to be part of the staff that makes football happen. The Eagles invited Cole to work with the support staff during one regular season game—it was that accomplishment that made the Minnesota fan’s choice easy. 

That fan in Minnesota, who so loved his team and had his own Super Bowl dreams, passed the dream on to Cole. And Cole took his father, Bill, along for the ride. 

And well, the rest is history. Cole not only got his wish; but he got to see it happen, all thanks to the random act of kindness by a man he never met. 

Unfortunately, his sisters, Maggie and Maeve, did not get their wish. 

It doesn't seem like Cole will stop talking about the Eagles' win anytime soon. 

Cole and his family are no strangers to random acts of kindness, but he is usually on the giving side. The Fitzgerald family is constantly bestowing their random acts of kindness upon ALSF—from fundraising and hosting lemonade stands to securing donations for our annual Hero Holiday party—this fabulous family of five some knows how to pay it forward.

February 17 is Random Acts of Kindness Day. Looking for some ways to celebrate with your family? Check out our ideas, inspired by all the RAKs we’ve seen and by our founder Alex Scott. 

A few years ago, I learned about an amazing cause called Alex’s Lemonade Stand Foundation (ALSF). As an educator of young children, I was instantly inspired by this organization and its founder Alex Scott.  I thought—if one 4 year old could make a difference, imagine what I could do with an entire class? I did some more research and learned that every year children across the U.S. still hold lemonade stands to raise money for pediatric cancer research, and I began to lesson plan!

Guest post by Danielle Harrison, preschool teacher 

A few years ago, I learned about an amazing cause called Alex’s Lemonade Stand Foundation (ALSF). As an educator of young children, I was instantly inspired by this organization and its founder Alex Scott. I thought—if one 4-year-old could make a difference, imagine what I could do with an entire class? I did some more research and learned that every year children across the U.S. still hold lemonade stands to raise money for pediatric cancer research, and I began to lesson plan!

For teachers, kindness is a buzz word. But many teachers struggle with how to effectively implement this into their curriculum without it falling flat. We teach our students to share, say hello, use “kind words.” Yet after young children are drilled with these expectations daily, it begins to lose its effect. The question constantly gnawing on our teacher brains is, “What do we do next to keep it fresh, effective and meaningful?” 

ALSF is a natural fit for school curriculums. Teaching children at a young age about giving back is so important. So, four years ago we had a trial run of our first lemonade stand, and boy it was successful!

The children learned all about giving back to their communities. They discussed why to give back, how to give back and shared what causes were important to them. I had students go door-to-door to raise money, and asked one child who held a small lemonade stand to bring that money into our fund and reach our goal. Our goal was $800. We raised $4,000 (5 times our goal!). 

After our initial success, we decided to take on this challenge again. This time, our ambition and ideas grew. We made shirts, signs and of course, lemonade! Most important, we raised over $5,000. This past year, we held another Alex’s Lemonade Stand. I sat in front of the 17 4-year-olds in my class and talked about giving back. We talked about donations and why it is important to stand up and let your voice be heard about something. We explored the idea that even though we may not be sick, there are other kids that can’t go to ballet or karate or school, and we can help them! By holding a lemonade stand and standing up for something, we can make a difference. How cool is that?!

As a teacher, we must still hit teaching goals. Implementing this theme provides a wealth of opportunities to do just that. We were able to use math (charts, graphs, numbers), literacy (sign making, inventive spelling, drawing), and science (making lemonade). The well-rounded curriculum ALSF provides is unique. Aside from the cognitive benefits, the social/emotional growth is immeasurable. Watching my students begin to develop empathy is an experience I cherish every single year.

Building a generation of strong, smart, thoughtful people is important and inspiring. Teaching our students to stand up and fight for something, even if life doesn’t seem all that fair. It’s our job as educators to not only teach, but motivate our students to do more, and hopefully, one day change the world. But most importantly, and rather simply, Alex’s Lemonade Stand Foundation teaches us a pretty valuable lesson… when life gives you lemons -- just make lemonade!

Danielle Harrison is a preschool teacher in New York City. She has Masters Degrees in early childhood education and clinical social work. Last year, Danielle was honored with the ALSF “Kids Helping Kids” Award at the Foundation’s New York City culinary event for raising over $15,000 over the past four years to help other kids. When she is not encouraging young minds and hearts, you might find her reading on the beach. In fact, her favorite way to drink lemonade is on a beach with a book in her hand.