Heroic Cause

Words spilled out of her mouth in a frenzy. It was as though her lips and tongue couldn’t keep up with her stream of consciousness. She hopped from topic to topic with delight, adding nuance to one recollection while cutting to the chase on another. We had a hard time keeping up with her, but our brunch table giggled from her animation. I joked that she sounded like a caffeinated squirrel.

“Dad,” she exclaimed. “It isn’t nice to call your only daughter names.”

Larry and Jordan pose at the LA Loves Alex's event to support Alex's Lemonade Stand Foundation
Larry and Jordan pose at the LA Loves Alex’s event to support Alex’s Lemonade Stand Foundation

But my scolding was temporary. She had more anecdotes to share with her Uncle Ricky and Aunt Lisa. They had flown down from Portland to join us for a weekend of culinary delight in the service of a good cause. Saturday was LA Loves Alex’s, an annual fundraising event for Alex’s Lemonade Stand Foundation that draws some of the country’s finest chefs to Los Angeles for an outdoor feast. Four years ago, Jordan and I spoke at the event. It was Jordan’s very first public speaking experience. She rallied the crowd with her mantra, “let’s keep kicking cancer’s butt together.”

Our family is so proud to be associated with ALSF. In its relatively short life it has raised over $100 million, and earned one of the highest charity ratings in the industry. Saturday’s event broke records. Over 2,000 people attended, and they raised more than $1 million in a single day. Even Jordan’s breath was taken away by the energy of the auction, when one item alone brought in $150,000.

“Wow! That’s a lot,” she said to me.

The weekend activities got me thinking about two words that often get tossed about in cancer rhetoric. The first is the notion of the hero. Jordan is a very proud “hero ambassador” for ALSF. And she certainly fits every definition of hero in my book. But it dawned on me that children like Jordan don’t aim to be heroes. They just want to be kids. They’d gladly relinquish their title if it meant a life without cancer. Jordan would be thrilled to trade in her title to run again, or leave the house without accompaniment because of fear of seizures. These kids earn heroic respect because they do everything they can to clear cancer out of life’s way so they can live life the way it should be lived.

Alex Scott was a true hero. Hearing her mother Liz recount stories about Alex’s life brought me to tears, as they always do. Take a moment and think about the fact that this very young cancer fighter started a movement with a single lemonade stand, aiming to raise money to help her doctors find cures for all children. What started as a day bringing in a jar full of cash has turned into events like Saturday’s, raising seven figures. Jordan relates to Alex’s story very much, not because Alex was a hero but because Alex’s story is about living and doing.

That brings me to the second word. Losing. During her speech, Liz Scott said that she rejects the phrase “lost her battle with cancer.” Alex, she said, did not lose. Though the disease cost her life, Alex’s spirit and efforts to do something about cancer were so ambitious and wonderfully fruitful that it’s just plain illogical to think of it all as a loss. A life of love and determination and dreaming is quite an accomplishment. I tell Jordan this whenever I can. Her loving, determined take on life inspires me and many others. It’s why I get so smitten when she’s rattling off stories and non sequiturs so fast we race to follow her.

A life packed with purpose and an abundance of dreams cannot be a loss.

Riders escort Pat Callihan's ashes to the Cottonwood Cemetery
Riders escort Pat Callihan’s ashes to the Cottonwood Cemetery

Saturday was significant in another way. 2,000 miles across the country, dozens and dozens of riders mounted Harley-Davidsons and rode two-lane country roads through Illinois farm country to carry my Uncle Pat’s ashes to his grave site. My uncle was one of my heroes and his long battle with cancer was certainly not measured in the loss column. He influenced so many people with his positive attitude and optimistic drive. Just a few months ago, with the cancer spreading so much that he found it difficult to breathe and required supplementary oxygen to get by, he still got on his Harley with my Aunt Jane and toured eight southern states, traveling over 1,800 miles. He later told me that the trip probably “did me in.” But, he said, it was worth it. That’s the man he was. There was always more life to be lived.

Uncle Pat was a big supporter of Jordan. In fact, he told me that he thought about her during some of his most challenging treatments and therapies. He said, “if that little girl can fight so bravely without complaint, so can I.” Pat was a natural with kids—a pied piper with my cousins and all their offspring. And he charmed Jordan very much. When he learned how much she loved Brooks Ketchup (which is sadly not sold west of the Mississippi) he would send her boxes packed full of bottles for our pantry. And, when he prepared to say goodbye, he made arrangements for his friends and family to donate to ALSF rather than send flowers. In the obituary that he wrote for himself, he said “flowers are pretty but there are kids out there that need our help more than I need flowers.”

My uncle did not lose his battle with cancer. He proved himself a hero and he lived his life fully despite the challenges that cancer threw at him. Most importantly, he positively affected the lives of so many. Like Alex Scott, Pat’s giant heart and abundant humor proved that we have the power to make this life our own, even when cancer shortens it.

The impact of this breed of heroism was on display Saturday as row after row of Harley riders clogged lanes on the way to the Cottonwood Cemetery in Hanna City, Illinois. And it was abundant in the rounds of giving taking place on the Royce Hall Quad in West Los Angeles.


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