It started out as a dream: 8-year-old Alexandra Scott, bravely battling cancer, told a reporter in 2004 she wanted to raise $1 million for research, because all kids deserved to have their tumors go away.
Although she lost her fight in 2004, Alex started a movement. The Alex’s Lemonade Stand Foundation — celebrating its 10th anniversary this weekend — has inspired others across the country to raise more than $80 million for cancer research.
"She amazed me in her life, and I feel like her legacy has continued,'' Alex's mother, Liz Scott, told Natalie Morales and Al Roker on TODAY Friday. "The generosity of people every day — I just feel so fortunate."
Diagnosed with a childhood cancer called neuroblastoma as an infant in 1996, Alex received a stem cell transplant when she was 4. While recovering, she told her family she wanted to have a lemonade stand in their front yard to raise money to help other kids with cancer.
Alex’s parents, Liz and Jay Scott, and her older brother, Patrick, helped Alex get the word out, and that first stand at their home outside Philadelphia raised $2,000 for doctors at the hospital where she was treated.
When people heard about Alex’s efforts, they organized their own stands and donated the proceeds to Alex’s cause. The overwhelming support for her mission inspired the family to continue raising money through yearly lemonade stands, and to encourage other kids to join them.
Liz and Jay Scott started the Alex’s Lemonade Stand Foundation in 2005 to honor their daughter’s memory and keep her hope of curing childhood cancers alive. It has increased cancer awareness, helped fund more than 450 research projects, and offered financial help and emotional support to families with children undergoing treatment.
Most of the millions of dollars raised by the foundation goes to research, which has led to breakthroughs in pediatric cancer.
"The most rewarding and amazing thing for me is to hear from parents whose children have been affected,'' Liz said. "I heard from a mom a few weeks ago whose son just passed three years of clean scans. The drug he was on, Alex was part of bringing to clinical trials. He had no other options, and here is a kid now who is enjoying life and has a baseball game this weekend."
ALSF public relations specialist Gillian Kocher told TODAY.com: “It’s been transformative for those families, but us as well, to see tangible results, and see research funding lead to kids thriving and growing up to live long and happy lives."
The Scotts — who continue to raise Alex’s three brothers — are sensitive to the stress cancer puts on families. Some of the group’s funding goes to a program for families who need to travel for treatment; other funds go to grants for pediatric oncology nurses to care for kids suffering from the disease.
Alex never let her age or her illness get in the way of her eagerness to help, and that message has motivated other children both sick and well to start their own stands. Her motto of “fighting cancer, one cup at a time” has reached people who may not have thought they could make a difference, especially kids.
"It's very bittersweet, obviously,'' her mother said. "I wish Alex was here. She would be graduating from high school next week. But her legacy is something that I think I can't even put my head around. The fact that she has inspired so many people to raise money for pediatric cancer research, but also to do something positive in their life, is really something that's to be celebrated, which is what we're trying to do this weekend."
P.J. Bartos from Phoenix, Arizona, decided to have a stand in 2009 when he was 5 years old, and he became so passionate about the experience that he set a goal to host a stand every year to raise $50,000 for ALSF by the time he graduated high school. Last year he raised more than $3,000.
Bridget Smith, 10, from Spring Lake, N.J., was diagnosed with neuroblastoma in 2007 and is now in remission. She will continue her tradition of running a lemonade stand this weekend to benefit the foundation. Bridget appeared on TODAY Friday with her mother, Marg, alongside Alex's mother to talk about how the foundation has helped Bridget's life.
"I'm feeling good to now be in remission,'' Bridget said. "I don't want to kids to go through what I went through because it was really hard, so I want to raise money."
"Bridget's hospital also benefited from Alex's lemonade stand so that's why we really felt that it's necessary to get involved for all the institutions in the country,'' Marg said.
To celebrate the 10th anniversary of Alex’s first lemonade stand, the foundation spearheads a National Lemonade Day, which now extends from Friday to Sunday in towns all over the U.S. and Canada. TODAY helped kick off the weekend with a $1,000 donation to the foundation on Friday.
Kocher estimates there will be about 2,500 Alex’s Lemonade Stands this weekend, and they hope to raise more than the $1 million that was Alex’s first goal.
“It’s a great anniversary for us and an emotional one, especially for the family. It’s a positive time of year because so many stands are happening and thousands of volunteers are following in Alex’s footsteps and trying to find a cure,” Kocher said.