Brady Williams can be found many a summer day running around a T-ball diamond in Oakfield, but that just begins to tell the story of an 8-year-old triplet nearly paralyzed as a toddler.
He hit many of his milestones during the first year of his life before brother Eli and sister Cara, but then he started to regress. Doctors at first thought he had cerebral palsy, but a CT scan when he was 18 months old showed he had a massive, cancerous tumor that had started in his chest and wrapped around his spine. Surgeons at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York City removed almost all of it. The tiny shard that remains hasn’t grown since.
Brady doesn’t remember a surgery and cancer treatment that his parents will never forget – though large scars on his back, side and chest, and regular follow-up scans continue to underline that he went through a major ordeal.
That’s why the Genesee County family makes lemonade every Labor Day weekend – and will do so Saturday as well – this time as the New York Hero State Family Representative for Lemonade Stand Day, to benefit Alex’s Lemonade Stand Foundation, which funds research and treatment of pediatric cancers.
The family will serve lemonade from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday at the Elroy Parkins Park at 37 Drake St., in Oakfield, said Megan Williams, Brady’s mom.
She found out about the national nonprofit online doing research about pediatric cancer in 2009 when Brady was sick.
“Being in the cancer community, I noticed Alex’s Lemonade Stand doing different events,” she said. “We decided to have our first stand that summer after he finished his treatment.
“We decided to get involved because I realized going through the cancer treatment process that a lot of the big name charities give a ridiculously small amount to pediatric cancer. When you’ve been impacted by it, you realize that all these charities that people do a lot of wonderful work for are only giving between 1 and 3 percent of their proceeds to kids. It was shocking for us. Alex’s, of course, gives all of their money to pediatric cancer research and causes. That was a big factor in why we chose to do what we did."
The family also was impressed after a check with CharityNavigator.org, which showed the foundation turned the vast majority of its fundraising into cancer-related efforts instead of administrative costs.
“You can really do your research and find out sometimes the money isn’t really going where you think it is,” Williams said. “It’s very eye-opening when you start digging around.”
After Saturday’s event and the seventh annual Williams Family Stand during Oakfield Labor Days in September, the family expects that overall it will have raised $20,000 for the foundation since starting its effort.
After a harrowing few months watching Brady diagnosed and treated for neuroblastoma, the Williams family knows the impact such research dollars can make.
"What impresses me a lot is that when you’re reading a research article or newspaper article on cutting edge research, generally they will tell how the project was funded," Williams said. "A lot of times, it’s not government funded. It’s grassroots organizations. I have an article on the downstairs counter now about certain medications and it says research was funded by Alex’s Lemonade Stand. They’ve funded more than 475 cutting edge research projects. That’s what we have to do as parents. That’s all the work that goes into this. They really try to fund the ones that show the most promise. They also do nursing grants, which are important because that helps improve the quality of life for these kids."
Williams, her husband, Matt, their other daughter, Allison, 6, and the triplets view the lemonade stand as a way to understand Brady’s fight on a number of levels, his mother said.
“It’s just such a benefit for us as a family, after the darkest time in our lives, to turn it into something positive,” she said. “There’s the impact of so many kids we met on our journey that have passed away from cancer. The impact that they and their families had on us has motivated us to not forget about them. And it’s of course to honor our son and his fight.
“An ongoing effort is important. Unfortunately, government funding is low for pediatric cancer compared to adult cancer. If no one else is going to do it, then we need to do it.”