Liz Scott is a force to be reckoned with. Ten years after losing her daughter, Alexandra “Alex” Scott, to the childhood cancer neuroblastoma, Scott has helped raise $75 million for childhood cancer research through Alex’s Lemonade Stand Foundation, a nonprofit dedicated to finding cures for all kids with cancer. The foundation began at the family’s Connecticut home with a single lemonade stand manned by a then-4-year-old Alex to raise money for kids battling cancer and reached $1 million before her death in 2004. Scott was committed to carrying on her daughter’s legacy and, along with husband Jay, the help of their three sons, and thousands of supporters, ALSF has awarded 439 grants to childhood cancer research.
Scott has turned her personal loss into a gift for children, giving hope to the more than 2 million kids diagnosed with cancer since Alex began her own journey. As Mother’s Day approaches and millions of children celebrate their moms, Scott reflects on the last 10 years and the best gift she received from Alex.
Julia Halewicz: Alex’s Lemonade Stand will celebrate 10 years since your daughter Alex challenged the nation to help her raise $1 million for childhood cancer cures one cup of lemonade at a time. How do you feel?
Liz Scott: It’s actually really hard to express how I feel during this time. It’s so exciting, and I consider myself very, very lucky to have the opportunity to continue what my daughter started. We’re sitting here 10 years after Alex voiced her wish to raise $1 million toward finding cures, and this year we’re hoping to raise $18 million over the course of this year. If you had said 10 years ago that we would be making this type of impact, I would have said, “Yeah sure,” but I can tell you that my daughter Alex knew. She had a plan, and it has been my pleasure to continue to follow in her footsteps.
JH: Alex would have graduated from high school this year.
LS: Yes, it’s hard to believe that is has been 10 years not only since Alex issued her challenge, but since her presence graced us. 10 years is a lifetime, especially for a child. We found out recently that what would have been her high school graduation will take place the same week as Lemonade Days (June 6-8), and that fact has left me with such a mixed bag of emotions. We are proud to continue working for cures for childhood cancers, but at the very same time, there isn’t a day that goes by where I wouldn’t rather have her here. We miss her, but we work harder to find cures every day because we know that was her dream.
JH: As parents, we focus so much on what we’ll teach our kids only to realize we have important lessons to learn ourselves. What did Alex teach you?
LS: It sounds corny, but Alex taught me a lot of clichés are very true. She was one who would say that you always have to believe in yourself, you have to stay positive event when it’s extremely difficult. I have come to realize that sometimes staying positive can feel insincere, but at the very same moment, staying positive is what got Alex through her 7 and half years of treatment. She believed that doctors were working to find better cures, and by being hopeful and positive, she also came up with a plan of how she could help them accomplish that. I’m not sure there ever would have been Alex’s Lemonade Stand Foundation if Alex hadn’t had such a positive spirit.
JH: How are Alex’s brothers doing?
LS: They have been incredibly resilient. The experiences have really varied and [been] different for each of my sons. My oldest son, Patrick, was 9 when Alex died. Today, he’s a sophomore at Harvard and very focused; I think Alex’s life most definitely had some impact on that. Patrick saw at a young age how precious life is, and that you’ve got to make the most of it, and that is exactly what he has done. Eddie was 5 when she died. He loves that people think of him as a face of Alex’s Lemonade Stand. Every day he wears an Alex’s Lemonade Stand shirt, even if he has to dress up, he’ll put a T-shirt on underneath his dress clothes. Our youngest, Joey, was just a toddler when his sister died. He has learned about Alex through the Foundation and he’s extremely proud that he’s her brother. He doesn’t have a big memory of her, but he feels like he knew her. It’s more comfortable for him not to have to tell people you lost a sister because they already know.
JH: What you and your family have accomplished is no small feat. What tips do you have for accomplishing the seemingly impossible?
LS: Having short-term or long-term goals and paying attention to them. Revisit them and change them as appropriate. A to-do list is what I call mine and I keep it on my iPhone. It’s very valuable and motivating to see something on my iPhone. Also make sure you have somebody in your life who is your champion, someone who you know you can go to and complain to and they understand. I need to tell somebody when something is bothering me.
JH: What’s the best piece of mommy advice you got?
LS: My mother told me that when you become a mother you’ll never have a truly worry-free night of sleep again. It changes you, it changes your focus and truly it just simply changes everything. My mom was right: The moment I became a parent, I stopped thinking about myself first, and would instead think of my children ahead of me. I am always worrying about them, wondering where they are, and even if they are happy. But, I guess you could say that is the true definition of a mom after all!
JH: What’s your biggest piece of advice for moms?
LS: I think as moms we expect a lot of ourselves and, while that’s wonderful and allows us to do all the different things we can throughout the day, I think we need the ability to give ourselves a break from time to time, too. I don’t necessarily mean going on vacation, but more acknowledging that you are doing the best that you can do. My oldest son said something to me one day. I told him, “I really wish I had been there for you more.” And he said, “Mom, I think you were doing the best you could. And I think I turned out OK; you did a pretty good job.” I thought, “You’re right.” Nobody’s ever going to be perfect.
JH: There seems to always be a new version of the mommy wars. How do you deal?
LS: Decide what you’re going to worry about. It helps to ask yourself, is this something that will even matter or be remembered by me and my child in three years? Your child's health, academics, behavioral problems are the things that really matter. If you have those things, everything else will fall into place. I do think that I’ve been able to lose that pressure thing.
JH: What would you like the legacy of ALSF to be?
LS: Just to know that 10 years later it’s as great as ever. Ten years later that we’re making an even bigger difference toward a cure—that would mean a lot to me. That’s just professionally, but knowing as parents we’ve been able to take this precious gift that Alex left us and keep inspiring people.