Mark and Paige Walsh of Leawood have put their family’s fight with childhood cancer behind them — but they continue to fight on behalf of all the other families still in the battle.
They’ve shown such dedication to the Alex’s Lemonade Stand for Childhood Cancer that the foundation has named them its Volunteers of the Year. They and their children will travel to Philadelphia to be honored at the foundation’s seventh annual Lemon Ball on Saturday.
“Honestly, a lot of time, for a family it’s easier to walk away and forget about childhood cancer when you’re not in the fight anymore,” Jay Scott, father of the foundation’s namesake, Alexandra Scott. “They’ve made a conscious decision to be involved and help other kids and families by their actions.”
Alexandra Scott died of cancer in 2004 at the age of 8, but the foundation in her name has raised more than $55 million and funded over 250 research projects.
Five years ago, Mark and Paige’s 3-year old son, Charlie, was undergoing treatment for a rare form of brain cancer. Paige recalls her mind-set during those tough days as almost a pact with God: “Just let him be OK and I’ll give back.”
Charlie got better and is now 8 years old. “It’s been five years since his date of diagnosis,” Paige said, “and three years totally NED,” or No Evidence of Disease. “It’s amazing.”
Also amazing is the effort the Walsh family has poured into giving back. Alex’s Lemonade Stand is the vessel they chose. “It’s really turned into a family event,” Paige said. As Donovan Walsh, 12, says, “It’s our tradition.”
The Walsh family, which also includes Mac, 16, and Lily, 14, began by volunteering at the lemonade stand at a local Hy-Vee store, during an annual Kansas City Lemonade Days.
In subsequent years, the Walsh kids helped with lemonade fundraisers at their schools and an area athletic club. This year Mac, a sophomore at Rockhurst, and cousin Emma Blowey organized a stand themselves. “They staffed it with their high school friends both days, coordinated with Hy-Vee managers and totally took the lead,” Paige said.
Paige now manages all of the volunteer team leaders at 27 area Hy-Vee stores, with nearly 700 volunteers participating in the lemonade event each year. “Hy-Vee is gracious to let us use their facilities. We bring in our own volunteers … to staff the lemonade stands,” she said.
Since the Walsh family’s experiences with Charlie’s cancer and the Lemonade Stand events, Mark’s sister Susan Blowey applied to and now works for Alex’s Lemonade Stand for Childhood Cancer. She is responsible for community awareness throughout the year in Kansas City.
Kansas City is one of the organization’s biggest supporter cities, Jay Scott says.
Last year Mark Walsh recruited his employer — Insurance Auto Auctions, Inc. — in the battle against childhood cancer. The company extended the fundraiser to their branches nationwide in 2012, raising more than $140,000 for Alex’s Lemonade Stand for Childhood Cancer.
“It’s not only a passion of my husband and I, because of Charlie, but our entire family,” Paige said. “They understand what it’s like to have your world rocked by a diagnosis, and they don’t want other families to go through that. It’s really become part of who we are.”
Jay Scott agrees. “It’s really a family affair,” he said. “They’ve really been able to take Alex’s to the next level in Kansas City.”