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When Life Gives You Lemons

Featured Photo from When Life Gives You Lemons

A Lake Mary mom turned her son’s terrifying cancer diagnosis into a call to action to support families like hers through the Alex’s Lemonade Stand Foundation

It was about two decades ago when a routine pediatric visit turned into every parent’s worst nightmare.
But as Lake Mary’s Beth Robertson and her family fought through the nightmare, Beth found her calling. Today, she works to help countless families coping with childhood cancer as part of the Alex’s Lemonade Stand Foundation.

Beth was living in New Jersey when she took her son, Cameron, to his one-year-old checkup. A lump in his stomach alarmed the medical staff, and Beth would soon learn Cameron suffered from hepatoblastoma, a rare form of childhood liver cancer.
The young boy began a regimen of extensive chemotherapy and endured numerous surgeries. The future looked bleak.
Today, though, Cameron is a healthy 22-year-old resident of Altamonte Springs. What’s more, he is the father of a seven-month-old boy.

It’s an outcome no one could have foreseen two decades ago.

Very little is off limits to Cameron now, as long as he eats well and avoids heavy binge drinking, Beth says. But then again, she adds wryly, “Heavy binge drinking is not a good idea for anyone.”

Besides Cameron’s full recovery, the happiest outcome from his dreadful diagnosis has been the family’s involvement in the Alex’s Lemonade Stand Foundation for Childhood Cancer, which is exactly what it sounds like.

The Pennsylvania-based foundation is named after Alexandra “Alex” Scott (1996-2004) who, as a four-year-old cancer patient in 2000, opened a front-yard lemonade stand to raise money for childhood cancer research.

Since then, the foundation has funded nearly 1,000 cutting-edge research projects at 135 institutions across the United States and Canada. Much of the foundation’s money still comes from actual lemonade stands in front yards, schools, and businesses.

Alex’s Lemonade Stand also helps families of cancer patients across the two countries connect, share success (and failure) stories, offer leads to experimental treatment, and provide emotional support.

“It’s not like some corporate business,” Beth says of the homegrown charity. “It’s run as a family.”

The money raised throughout North America is funneled to the foundation’s headquarters, where a medical board determines how to spend it.

“If it’s giving a family one more year with their child –  two years, three years, a lifetime – that makes a difference,” Beth says. “Because no parent should have to bury their child.”

It was actually Cameron who learned about the Alex’s Lemonade Stand Foundation through a preschool friend. The Robertson family recruited other neighborhood families and began raising money for the cause.

After many years of volunteering with the organization, Beth became an employee in 2018.

Cameron moved to Central Florida for a job opportunity in late 2018, and his family soon followed him, with only Cameron’s older sister remaining up north. The foundation allowed Beth to continue her work in Florida.

Beth and her husband, Stewart, eventually fell in love with Lake Mary. The city, she says, reminded them of the small-town vibe in Haddon Heights, New Jersey.

Being the mother of a cancer survivor allows Beth to empathize with the families she helps through her work as a community outreach specialist.

Sadly, not every family meets a happy ending.

“We’ve been to way too many funerals,” Beth says.

And though Cameron has been cancer-free for some 20 years, Beth knows she could never abandon the deeply connected network of cancer families.

“It’s never over,” she says.

To this day, Beth can recount every moment of the trauma her family went through.

During Cameron’s routine examination, the pediatrician was pushing on his little belly.

“The doctor had a strange look on her face, and she called in the head pediatrician,” says Beth, who was pregnant with Cameron’s younger sister. “He seemed concerned and asked me, ‘Who’s here with you?’”

Before long, Cameron was undergoing diagnostic tests at a hospital in Philadelphia. Beth recalls an oncologist recommending that she reach out to all her family. “I told the doctor my husband’s family is in Scotland,” Beth recalls. “The doctor said, ‘Call them.’“

Cameron would receive more than a dozen chemo treatments and undergo several surgeries. But his only remaining side effect today is some loss of hearing.

Cameron was very young and has few memories of his illness. But he does remember his grandfather taking him for a walk around Philly to get some fresh air. He also recalls his family indulging in chemo buffets, with Chinese food and McDonald’s milkshakes. And Cameron remembers plenty of admiration for the countless hours his doctors and nurses devoted to helping kids like him.

“There were always people at my side,” he says. “I was never alone.”

Since the ordeal, Cameron has pushed against limitations. Contact sports were forbidden, but he grew up wanting to play football. In high school, he approached his doctor with the idea of playing as a kicker and punter.

“I nagged and nagged and nagged her,” Cameron says.

After doing some research, the doctor told him, “Buddy, if this is your dream, go chase it.”

Meanwhile, his mom’s dream is to see the day cures are found for all childhood cancers.

“I would love,” Beth says, “to be out of a job.”

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