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Fatherhood and Childhood Cancer

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  • When his daughter Kennedy was diagnosed with spinal cord tumors, she was given a five year survival rate of 20-percent. Today, Kennedy is a rising sophomore in college.
    When his daughter Kennedy was diagnosed with spinal cord tumors, she was given a five year survival rate of 20-percent. Today, Kennedy is a rising sophomore in college.
  • Pictured above, Jeff and Kristy Kennedy with Liz and Jay Scott at the 2019 Lemon Ball.
    Pictured above, Jeff and Kristy Snyder with Liz and Jay Scott at the 2019 Lemon Ball.
  • Jeff says he was inspired by Jay Scott's drive to keep his daughter's legacy alive, while helping other children and families.
    Jeff says he was inspired by Jay Scott's drive to keep his daughter's legacy alive, while helping other children and families.

By: Jeff Snyder, Kennedy’s Dad

When my daughter Kennedy was born, like all new dads, I vowed to always be there for her and protect her.

But when Kennedy was 2 years old and diagnosed with cancer, I realized that I couldn’t live up to part of that pledge. I couldn’t protect her from this disease. 

It was devastating. 

The first two or three months after diagnosis were extremely difficult. Kennedy was diagnosed with spinal cord tumors, called astrocytoma. Initally, we were told that Kennedy had a 20-percent chance of surviving five years. The odds were not in our favor. As we went through chemo and hospital stays, transfusions and physical therapy, my wife and I were living under a massive black cloud of fear.

What if we lost Kennedy?

Kennedy, however, was incredibly optimistic and positive. At the heart of it, she just wanted to be a kid and experience joy in all the things children naturally do. 

Her attitude inspired us to shift that black cloud, just a little. But, still, there is a loneliness for a father watching his daughter battle cancer. While we learned to live in the moment and parent with an eye towards joy, I still had been handed something I never expected  as a father. 

Then I met Jay Scott, Alex’s dad.

When you receive the news that your child has cancer, your family and friends don’t know how to react. But a college buddy of mine made the connection and thought maybe introducing me to Jay would help. 

At our first meeting, Jay instinctively understood how I was feeling. I was immediately able to get right down to the heart of what I was going through and share it with another father in a similar position. We just clicked. 

That was a defining moment for me. 

As I learned more about Jay’s own experience with fatherhood and Alex’s childhood cancer diagnosis, I was inspired.  Jay’s drive to keep Alex’s legacy alive and fulfill his mission to help other children and families really spoke to me. 

Jay became my friend and Alex’s Lemonade Stand Foundation became my north star and my mission. My daughter’s attitude continued to be positive and she continued to defy the initial odds of survival.

And the way I did fatherhood changed completely. Instead of focusing on protecting our children, my wife and I pledged to show them how to live spontaneously, joyfully and in the moment—because at the end of the day that’s what really matters.

I also found a greater purpose in my life. The work that Jay, Liz, and the entire ALSF team does every day is incredible. It’s personally fulfilling to know that we’re continuing to carry on Alex’s legacy and helping to fund innovative research, raise awareness and support families who are also on this path. I believe that all the efforts we do to fund research will have an impact in Kennedy’s lifetime and will make a difference for others.

I spend a lot of time speaking with fathers of newly diagnosed children. They’re understandably overwhelmed with the range of emotions. Friends and family, while well-intentioned, often don’t know how to react or what to say. My hope is that I can offer them some comfort and share my story, father-to-father, so they feel less alone—just as Jay did for me. 

Jeff Snyder is the father of childhood cancer hero Kennedy and her brother Nate, a board member for Alex's Lemonade Stand Foundation and ambassador for ALSF. Together with his family, Jeff has raised close to $600,000 for ALSF by participating in The Million Mile each September. At the 2019 Lemon Ball, Jeff, his wife Kristy and their children were honored with the Crystal Cup award. 

Kennedy Snyder just finished her freshman year of college.