SIDNEY — The booth for Team Alex at this year’s Relay for Life event will be different from most.
“It will definitely be a kid-friendly site,” said Alex’s mom, Melissa Lacy, of Sidney. That’s because fully half of the members of the 40-person team are children.
Alex, 4, was diagnosed with leukemia in 2017. This is the first year that Melissa, her husband, Aaron, and their older children, Caroline, 10, and Jameson, 7, have participated in Relay for Life fundraising. It’s their way of giving back to a community of friends and family who have helped them through Alex’s year of treatments.
It was a bike accident that brought his illness into focus.
“On Aug. 7, 2017, he was riding his bike, showing Grandma how fast he could go,” Melissa said. He crashed and broke his arm when he couldn’t negotiate a turn. It was the third bone break the little boy had suffered that year. He had broken his leg in January and his foot in June.
At Wilson Health, doctors noted that Alex looked very pale. They put a splint on his arm and sent him home. It was a Monday.
Tuesday, he began to run a fever. Wednesday, he complained that his arm hurt more. Melissa called the emergency room at Dayton Children’s Hospital. The nurse there said she couldn’t give medical advice over the phone, “but as a mother, I think you should bring him in,” she said.
So Melissa and Alex drove to Dayton, arriving at 9 p.m., Wednesday.
“The doctor kept saying he looked pale,” Melissa said. “I said, ‘This is just Alex.’” The hospital staff ran blood tests.
At 3 a.m., Melissa was told that it looked as though Alex had leukemia. Aaron was at home with the other children.
“I had to call my mom and not tell her why, but she had to go be with the other kids. I had to call my husband and not tell him why but that he had to come to the hospital in Dayton right away,” Melissa said. She had been advised not to say anything over the phone that would upset Aaron and impede his drive to Dayton.
“He says he drove as fast as he ever has. I thought that I sat there forever (waiting for him to arrive),” she said.
Alex was admitted for a bone marrow biopsy, but he needed a transfusion of blood and platelets, first. The platelet infusion sent him into anaphylactic shock. It took a day for him to recover sufficiently for the biopsy, which proved that he does, indeed, have leukemia.
“If your child has to have cancer, this is the one to have. It has a 95 to 98 percent cure rate,” doctors told the Lacys.
Alex started a round of chemo treatments and took an oral steroid at home. His appetite mushroomed and he had cravings at all hours.
“He would ask for chips and cheese and salsa in the middle of the night, and we did it,” Melissa said. The goal was that he would be in remission after 28 days of treatment, but he wasn’t. In fact, the results of another biopsy bumped him into a high risk category.
He went into the second of five phases of chemo treatments and experienced anaphylaxis again. This time, it was a Code Blue hospital event that ruled out the use of that particular chemical. A different chemo required many more infusions.
“Right before Thanksgiving, he finished the second phase of treatment. Four, four- to five-day inpatient stays started in December,” Melissa said. Alex was then given a very high dose of chemo which ran over 24 hours. He had to stay in the hospital until his body cleared to a certain level before he could go home. And then the antibiotic he was given caused yet another anaphylactic shock.
But Dec. 8, his biopsy came back clear. He was finally in remission.
“It was the best Christmas gift ever,” Melissa said. The fourth phase of chemo caused Alex to lose his hair and nauseated him. That phase ended when Dayton Children’s Hospital ran out of the medicine.
“Then we had to wait for his white blood cell counts to come up. They didn’t come up over four weeks with no chemo. We went to the hospital anticipating a biopsy. They did labs and his counts finally had shot up so we didn’t have to do a biopsy. Another huge relief,” Melissa said.
Now, Alex is in the fifth phase of treatment, which will continue for three and a half years. His last chemo is scheduled for Dec. 4, 2020. He goes to the hospital once a month and takes oral chemo at home every night. He has regular spinal taps. Once a month, he takes steroids for five days.
“So we get mood swings and an appetite like crazy. Then it goes back and just as we’re normal, we do it again,” Melissa said.
The family has adjusted to this new normal.
“Our daughter is very on top of things. She’s the best big sister ever,” Melissa said.
In the beginning, Aaron and Melissa didn’t tell Caroline and Jameson that Alex had leukemia. They thought it would alarm the children.
“We said he had blood germs,” Melissa said. But when the Relay for Life team began to form, the T-shirts the team had made had the well-known orange ribbon logo.
“Why do the shirts have the orange ribbon for cancer?” Caroline asked.
“Well, Alex’s blood germs are a form of cancer,” Melissa said. Caroline and Jameson immediately rallied to the cause. Caroline knew her teacher at school had survived cancer.
“It’s made a connection. We underestimate our kids,” Melissa said. Alex’s brother and sister began to come up with ideas for raising money for the Relay team.
“Jameson wants to leaf-blow people’s sidewalks,” Melissa said. Caroline devised all kinds of fundraisers.
“To make dog scarves, to make dog treats, to do a car wash,” the 10-year-old said. “Our dog groomer helped me out with the dog scarves and my cousins helped out with the dog treats. We used pumpkin, eggs, flour and water. We cut them out in the cancer ribbon shape, stars and hearts.”
The biscuits were sold at Advance Auto Parts for $3 per bag of three treats. The business was also the site of a car wash. Caroline said it was fun, “just to do it.”
Dog scarves and dog treats will be for sale at the Team Alex booth during Relay for Life, Aug. 3-4, at the Shelby County Fairgrounds.
The team’s goal was to raise $5,000 but the fundraising is almost at the $10,000 mark. And they’re not done yet. Team Alex has made arrangements with Buffalo Wild Wings in Sidney for a donation of 10 percent of sales between 5 and 9 p.m., July 25.
Alex, in the meantime, is having a great time being a little boy.
“He won’t stop. You have to make him rest,” Melissa said. That wasn’t the case a year ago. In hindsight, the Lacys can see that symptoms of leukemia were there then that they didn’t recognize. Alex was bruising easily, but they thought it was just the bumps and tumbles of a growing toddler. He would put himself down for a nap, but if Aaron and Melissa had been asked if Alex tired easily, they would have said no. Appetite loss? They didn’t think so, and yet Alex didn’t eat as much as he had before. His parents thought he was just getting taller and thinner, losing the baby fat.
Now, Alex is looking forward to going to preschool at Sidney Co-op in September. He had enrolled last fall, but then couldn’t attend. Teachers Jane Ulrich and Jeanne Fuller took folders of work to him each month, activities he enjoyed doing during his hospital stays.
Melissa, a full-time mother, appreciated that. She also noted that Aaron’s job as a salesman for Air Handling Equipment Inc. allowed him the flexibility to be with Alex for his treatments.
“For Aaron to be there is huge for Alex,” Melissa said.
And the family is grateful for the help of friends.
“I don’t know what we would have done if people hadn’t brought us meals and mowed our grass,” Melissa said. “What can we do? We’ll have a team and raise some money.”
So, Team Alex will join hundreds of other volunteers during the 2018 Shelby County Relay for Life. The 20 kids on the team — and the adults, too — wouldn’t miss sharing the excitement with one newly energetic little boy.
Reach the writer at 937-538-4824.