Deana is a senior going into her fifth year of yearbook and second year as Editor-In-Chief of The Wolfpack newspaper. In her junior when she joined the paper, Deana found her passion in journalism and now plans to study it at UT Austin. She loves spending time writing long feature stories, editing...
Be the Brigade
Leukemia Survivor Uses Wish to Create Nonprofit
November 30, 2018
September 2, 2014- a date that senior Lance White knows by heart. It was the day that he was given news that would change his life forever, the day that Dr. Virginia Harrod came to his bedside and told him that he had cancer.
In the days leading up to his diagnosis, White had what appeared to be a stomach virus, and he and his parents had no reason to believe that it was anything more. However, when the “virus” had persisted for four days, White’s parents drove him to an urgent care clinic off of 183.
When he arrived at the clinic, it was not long until they were told to jump back in the car and head down the road to the nearby hospital, Cedar Park Regional Medical Center. From there, they decided to get White in an ambulance and send him to Dell Children’s Medical Center in Austin, TX, which had the equipment needed to diagnose him with T-Cell Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia by the next morning. This diagnosis was only the start of the long journey White had ahead of him.
After being diagnosed at Dell, they CareFlighted him to the Children’s Medical Center in Dallas, TX, as his white blood cell count continued to rise and put him at risk of a heart attack, stroke or kidney failure. When he reached Dallas, White underwent two life-saving treatments of leukapheresis and then began chemotherapy.
“They just told me I was going to lose everything,” White said. “I kind of blew it off for a bit. I knew that they were going to cure me, but I blew off that I was going to lose all my muscle and my ability to walk. I began to feel the effects of chemo within days.”
A port was inserted into White’s chest for the chemo to have easy access to his veins, and once he was put on the treatment, it was not long until he began losing strength and eventually his mobility due to side effects of the drugs.
“It tightens your muscles and makes it impossible to walk,” White said. “Probably the most painful part is the tiredness of it, because it just takes everything away from you.”
Before his diagnosis, White was a linebacker for the middle school football team, a catcher for baseball and a long-jumper in track. He had a healthy weight of 115 lbs and exercised regularly, but when his chemo caused him to lose much of his appetite, White lost 32 percent of his body weight and dropped to just 78 lbs.
“When I hit 78 pounds, they threatened me with feeding tubes, and that was a really scary part,” White said. “It’s a red flag for all doctors. It tells them you are not eating right, you are not getting the exercise you need and basically, your body is deteriorating and is going to give up at some point.”
His family and doctors knew something must be changed for White’s weight to improve. So, his dad came in one day with his own solution, in the form of chicken and fish.
“My dad introduced me to Long John Silvers and I would eat that almost all the time in the hospital because hospital food is not very good,” White said. “Once he introduced me to the fish and the chicken that they do, it kind of started to bring my weight back up. That was a lot for me.”
His chemo treatment continued for the next three years, and on Dec. 29, 2017, he made it to the finish line, completing his very last round of chemo. White had defeated cancer.
“I am 100 percent positive that it will never come back,” White said. “Those doctors have done a really good job taking care of me over these few years. I refer to them as my family now.”
White’s story is not just a cancer story, however. In 2016, one year before finishing his treatment, Make-A-Wish® Foundation visited him to explain how they grant “wishes” to children with critical illnesses.
“I didn’t hear of Make-A-Wish until they came to us,” White said. “When they came to us, I was like, ‘Oh that’s pretty cool,’ and it got me thinking there for a bit.”
They told him to dream big. For many kids, a dream vacation to Disney or meeting their favorite celebrity falls under their classification of ‘big,’ but not for White. When he got to thinking, White came up with a non-profit idea that he would propose to Make-A-Wish.
“They [grant] wishes for kids to go do something they have always wanted to do, but not create a business out of it,” White said. “I had my mind set on a foundation because I knew I could do more with that wish than anything else. I shot the idea out and they said, ‘Well, we haven’t done that before, so it is going to be a little hard.’”
White decided he would create a foundation called Lift Brigade, which he would use to support other kids going through cancer treatment. Out of the many wishes granted by Make-A-Wish Central & South Texas, White’s was the first which included helping other kids like him, according to Kathrin Brewer, the foundation’s president and CEO. While White was at the hospital, he said there were children in nearby rooms screaming at all the scary things that come with cancer treatment, such as needles.
“The main thing that influenced it was the crying in the hospital from other kids, mainly the toddlers or babies, the ones who didn’t know what was going on,” White said. “In the clinic, there are rooms directly next to each other and you can hear everything around you.”
Just like those kids, White said that he could not stand needles and shots as a child, or even when he began his own treatment. Lift Brigade was White’s chance to tell kids that it was all going to be okay.
“Before I was diagnosed and I was getting shots for the flu, they had to hold me down,” White said. “That’s how terrified I was of needles when I was little. Thinking about all that stuff and now what these kids are going through, having to do that practically every week, that’s hard.”
While the logistics of his wish were being figured out, White’s first plan of action was to simply deliver toys and supplies to the pediatric oncology clinic and hospital under the name of “Team Lance.” Once Make-A-Wish finalized everything, they managed to give him $5,000 to begin his foundation. After this, White began efforts to raise more money for his foundation. Lift Brigade hosted a blood drive and donation booth at Meet the Timberwolves, presented to The Greater Round Rock Community Foundation and received a $5,000 grant and even raffled off an Xbox signed by Rooster Teeth Achievement Hunter Team at RTX Austin 2018, raising $3,000. The donations received over time allowed White to start dreaming bigger than delivering toys and supplies.
“As much as I would love to see people donating more to the hospital, giving money and saying ‘Do something with it,’ in my opinion, is not enough,” White said. “Volunteer, hang out with the kids and get to know them.”
And that is just what he did. Since the Lift Brigade began, White and his family have visited countless children undergoing treatment in hopes to bring them that “lift.” White even started bringing kids out to the varsity football games.
“We brought a little kid named Cash out to a football game, and he had been going through a bunch of chemo,” White said. “In the hospital, he had that ‘I don’t want to do anything’ look on him. [But at the game], he was probably the happiest kid I have ever seen.”
White said his loneliest and longest hospital stay, which lasted 22 days, drives him to pursue the Lift Brigade every day. During this stay, White had little immunity and had to be isolated, where only his medical care team could enter his inpatient room while wearing suits with gloves and masks to prevent germs from spreading to him.
“It can be very lonely,” White said. “You can be isolated in a room for very long periods of time.”
In spite of the unavoidable feeling of loneliness during long hospital stays, White said that hanging out with kids and becoming friends with them can make all the difference.
“It makes them feel normal, and it distracts them,” White said. “Making connections with them is so fun, because you can have that friendship for a long time and you have been through the same things so it makes you feel even closer that way.”
For the young children who are worried about what could lie in their future, White said that he feels capable of giving them just a little more hope.
“I think it is good for them because it gives them more information about how it is going to go, and the other side of when the [cancer is gone],” White said. “It gives them a sense of hope.”
Continuing his fundraising efforts over the next few years, White, through Lift Brigade, has since raised over $60,000 for kids fighting cancer. Once Lift Brigade began to take off and acquire the funds to do more, it began to focus on providing distraction tools and technology to area hospitals and clinics. White started donating gaming systems like the Xbox and PlayStation, as well as gaming carts which were equipped with things like portable DVD players, iPads, headsets and various games. Currently, he is installing these gaming consoles loaded with games in all 24 inpatient oncology rooms at Dell Children’s Medical Center in Austin, TX. By doing this, patients are able to connect with friends and family by playing online with them while they are stuck in the hospital during treatment.
White reflected back on when he installed a console for a girl named Samara Watson who was going through cancer treatment.
“[Visiting] them can change their whole attitude,” White said. “When we walked in, she didn’t want to do anything, but when we put an Xbox in there, her whole mood changed on a dime. That’s what it’s all about really.”
Her mom, Carmen Watson, created a Facebook post after seeing a video of White receiving the Champions for Children 2018 Award from Helping Hands Home, which featured the many things he has done with his foundation.
“We all just watched this video with tears in our eyes, as it took us back to a long, two-week stay at the hospital where we first met this most amazing teenager we had heard about months before,” Watson said. “In walked Lance, in remission from Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia, to install a permanent Xbox in Sam’s room. He had no idea that she hadn’t been able to leave her room for days and was bored out of her mind. What an inspiration and what a heart this teenager has to think of others for his Make-A-Wish. Thank you, Lance.”
In eighth grade when White got diagnosed with Leukemia, he had to leave his teammates and the sports that he loved. White was able to make it out to his first Cedar Park High School football game in 2014, and before the game, the team wheeled him into the locker room so he could be a part of their pre-game prayer circle. His friends from eighth grade stood in their green and black football gear, and reached down to take White’s hands during the prayer. He said his team has been there from the beginning lifting him up.
“That experience really told me that there are people out there that want to help,” White said. “They took me under their wing, that whole team did, and I’m still friends with a lot of those guys to this day. Those guys are everything for me.”
Knowing that people are back home waiting can mean the world to kids like White. He said when the middle school got word of his diagnoses back in 2014, students began sending hundreds of cards telling White to stay strong. Since some kids in the hospital may not have a team or a middle school at home to show them support, White said that he hopes his efforts have helped make up for it.
“When I bring a kid out to a game, I can physically see that they are happy, or tired,” White said. “But I don’t know if it helped them at all, because they don’t usually tell you until they are done with [chemo].”
Hudson Stavrou is a nine-year-old kid with cancer who White has gotten to know. Throughout Hudson’s battle with cancer, which included a relapse, White has shown him love and attention. He has taken him to football games, visited him in school, talked with him on Facetime and even brought Cedar Park football alumni, Tyler Lavine and Nathan Sloey, to play ball with him in the park. While White is not always sure the level of impact he makes on kids, Hudson’s mother said that he has surely changed their cancer experience.
“Lance and his Brigade lit up our home from the moment they walked in,” Hudson’s mother Jennifer Stavrou said. “They set up a meal train for us, helped us find support systems, brought gifts for the kids, surprised us with impromptu game nights, gave us strength when we felt defeated and always made time to listen. We wouldn’t be standing today if it wasn’t for the ‘lift’ they gave us.”
White may never know his full impact on the kids that Lift Brigade has helped out, but at the end of the day, he said that all he wants to do is make kids’ treatment a little more tolerable.
“[Make it] as positive as possible, that’s the main goal,” White said. “There’s nothing you can’t do with positivity. Negative moods do not get you very far. If you don’t believe you can get something done, then you probably won’t get it done. If you are positive through chemo, it can seem much quicker in a way.”
With all of the obstacles he had to overcome throughout treatment, White said that having this foundation and seeing its effect makes it all worthwhile.
“It makes me a lot more proud, it means pretty much everything to me right now,” White said. “It is still a work in progress, guaranteed. It is something I am going to have to work for. I am going to be going to college to study business and nonprofit mainly to get an idea of what I want to build it to be.”
Wherever White takes Lift Brigade in the future, and wherever Lift Brigade takes him, he said that he will always be looking to lift others up.
“Cancer is something nobody asks for, and especially for the little ones, their parents never asked for their kid to have a serious disease that affects their life,” White said. “We can provide a lift in a time of need.”