By Emily Williams
Part one of Crestline Elementary student Slade Anderson’s advice to kids suffering from pediatric cancer: Never stop believing. Part two: Go to the St. Jude Research Hospital Gift Shop.
Anderson is no stranger to the halls of St. Jude, traveling between its location in Memphis and his home in Mountain Brook to receive treatment for leukemia.
While on a Thanksgiving holiday trip in 2012, Slade developed a fever and earache, and his parents sought medical attention at an urgent care clinic. From the clinic, Slade was taken by ambulance to St. Jude, where he and his family received a diagnosis of childhood acute lymphoblastic leukemia.
“For the first eight weeks, Slade was at St. Jude receiving treatment. He never left,” Slade’s mother, Emily Anderson, said.
With the facility dedicated to researching and treating childhood cancer, Slade was treated in a clinic specifically for patients with ALL and AML, acute myeloid leukemia. The environment provided a strong sense of community and support, according to Anderson, with Slade attending the hospital school, eating and receiving treatment surrounded by kids who were in a similar position. Slade’s personal favorite was the gift shop.
“It’s more than even a community,” Anderson said. “These people become a part of your family.”
She noted that any time she found herself sitting with other mothers during treatments or even during a meal, conversations would become unofficial support groups, exchanging experiences and lending advice.
“I remember when it was time to explain things to Slade, it made it easier because he was surrounded by kids who were just like him,” Anderson said.
She noted that when it came time to talk about hair loss with him, Slade’s dad simply asked him to look around at the other kids and tell him what the similarities were. When Slade made the connection that he would soon lose his hair, instead of feeling distraught he simply asked his dad to shave his own head in solidarity.
“I got to shave my uncle’s head too!” Slade proudly announced.
As treatment continued and Slade began to show progress, he split his time between St. Jude and Children’s of Alabama.
“We were so blessed to be a part of both communities,” Anderson said.
In June 2015, Slade finished his chemotherapy treatments and now has to visit the hospital only once a year for check-ups.
With St. Jude at the forefront of pediatric cancer research, Anderson said, showing support for that hospital is supporting the many hospitals across the country with which St. Jude shares its research and findings.
Though St. Jude is in Memphis, its extended community is just as strong back here in Alabama, Anderson said. It’s through the family’s continued support of the hospital’s work that Anderson was introduced to Molly Fielding and Michael Schefano of Vestavia Hills, along with his daughter Sophia, who also was treated at St. Jude.
Together, the three created the Field of Dreams event, which will celebrate its third annual fundraiser May 13 at the Grand Bohemian Hotel. For Anderson, it was a no-brainer to get involved with fundraising for the hospital that saved her son.
“As a mother, you’d do anything for your kids because they are such a special part of you,” she said.
With his mother serving as a founding chair, Slade has attended the event as a patient honoree each year.
“He loves to speak,” Anderson said. “He can get up in front of crowds and speak in situations that would have most adults quivering … . And he always ends with a joke.”
According to Slade, it’s important to get the crowd laughing. His closing joke usually pertains to certain auction items. The die-hard Alabama and Saints fan usually will try to get folks to steer away from spending too much of their bidding money on rival teams and players.
This year’s event begins at 6 p.m. May 13 and features silent and live auctions that will offer plenty of Auburn and Alabama-centric memorabilia, as well as vacation packages, jewelry, art and more. Slade said he has his eye on a guitar signed by Dierks Bentley, not because he enjoys the singer’s music, but because his mom does.
Serving as emcee for the evening will be Nicole Allshouse, host of ABC 33/40’s “Talk of Alabama.” Auctioneers will be WBRC Fox 6’s Rick Karle, sports director, and Rick Journey, reporter.
Proceeds from the evening will support St. Jude’s efforts to research cures and treatments for pediatric catastrophic diseases and assist financially disadvantaged patients in financing care.