One Katy family had to taste a bitter reality when their son Rhett was diagnosed with high-risk leukemia. Find out how their idea to start a lemonade stand gave them all strength and hope.
KATY MAGAZINE | July 2018 Ashley Lancaster
Opening Photo by Heather Armijo Photography
Rhett Wilkins, a 7-year-old cancer survivor, and his family opened a lemonade stand to raise money for cancer research, and were named one of the Top 10 Best Lemonade Stands in the United States by NextDoor.
The Wilkins' were a Katy family just like any other until the day their son Rhett, now 7, was diagnosed with high-risk Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia (ALL). While he was being treated for cancer at Texas Children's Hospital, his compromised immune system left him vulnerable to a rare fungal infection which, in combination with the cancer diagnosis, have him a 1% chance to live.
"Even the doctors were blown away by how Rhett survived when the infection, called mucormycosis, took over his body. There was no medical protocol or documented history of a child surviving this kind of fungal infection as long as Rhett did. When he pulled out of the coma, the doctors started documenting his progress and since then, several children have been saved with the protocol that save Rhett," says his father, Chris Wilkins.
A FRESH IDEA Rhett had overcome the odds like a true warrior, but there was still a long, long way to go. The standard course of treatment for a child with ALL is between 2.5 - 3.5 years from beginning to end depending on the treatment plan, and it's intensity during the first year leaves children exhausted and often feeling sick. The physical, emotional, and financial toll can place a huge strain on the patients and their family.
Life had handed Rhett and his family lemons....so they decided to make lemonade.
"Rhett's mom and my wife Lauren (pictured) came up with the idea. Lauren asked if I could build the stand, and I said I could if she would make it pretty," says Wilkins. The entire family, including all four of Rhett's siblings and his cousin Sydney jumped on board.
Sydney (cousin, 11), Siddalee (10), Riley (10), Peyton (7), and JJ (6) knew that they wanted to help Rhett, as well as other kids and families who were suffering in the same way. At first, their goal was to raise $1,000 every time they hosted a stand to donate to the Leukemia & Lymphoma Foundation. Rhett's lemonade was requested at swim meets, gymnastics events, crawfish boils and other family events in Katy to spread the word.
SWEET & SOUR
To the family, the stand is more than just a fun activity. While in treatment at Texas Children's Hospital for 42 months, little Rhett tragically lost eight of his friends to childhood cancer. "We want to raise money, not just for the children that have survived, but also so that every child has a chance to survive. The government doesn’t give enough to children’s cancer so we are doing it for them," says Wilkins.
According to the National Pediatric Cancer Foundation, only 4% of government funding is allocated towards childhood cancer research... a number that is simply not good enough for most parents.
That's why little lemonade stands like Rhett's are such a light in the vast darkness of cancer. To date, they have raised $5,000 for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Foundation, and plan to continue hosting stands in Katy.
STRENGTH THAT INSPIRES
Rhett, like so many others who have gone through similar battles, shows a resilience that is truly amazing. There really aren’t any words that can make a parent, who is watching their child suffer, feel encouraged. It’s something no one ever prepares themselves for. There is a resiliency in children that adults lost at some point in life," says his dad.