Day by day, hour by hour is the way of life for families affected by cancer. This became the routine for the Slocum family on April 25, 2013 when they heard the words, “diagnosed with leukemia”. Wes and Mandy Slocum’s son Drew was born a happy, healthy 8 pound baby, but at around five and a half months they realized his smiles were harder to come by, he wasn’t sleeping as soundly and overall was not the same easy-going baby. Being the first born and unaware of what is normal and abnormal, Wes and Mandy took Drew to the pediatrician for reassurance. They went to the pediatrician three times over the course of 11 days and were first told he was likely fighting a virus, then told he may have an ear infection, but antibiotics would clear it up in a few days. Finally, after Mandy and Drew realized Drew’s coloring was off they went in for a third visits, where blood was drawn and results came back very abnormal. After being immediately admitted to Levine Children’s Hospital for more tests, the Slocum’s found out 48 hours later that Drew had Infantile Leukemia (ALL).
“My initial feeling was confusion – I knew it was bad based on Mandy’s reaction but I didn’t know anything about Leukemia, the treatment, the prognosis – I was clueless,” said Wes Slocum, Drew’s dad and 24 Foundation top fundraiser.
Drew was first admitted for 26 days to go through a treatment called induction that consisted of strong chemotherapy and sleepless nights. Wes recounts that the first year of treatment was particularly hard as the list of chemotherapy and steroid medicine Drew was receiving at the time became longer than his arm and often left him guessing. As they ventured into the second year of treatment, the process got a little easier and more “normal”, as Wes and Mandy were able to be home with Drew more than they were in the hospital. Then their sense of “new normal” was interrupted when they realized Drew had lost his drive to play and walk around, but rather preferred to be held most of the time. Wes and Mandy made several trips to the doctor in October, November and December of 2014, but felt uneasy from test results. On New Years Eve, they took Drew back to the hospital after they believed he was retaining fluid and he was admitted. Drew passed from Acute Infectious Myocarditis, condition where the body essentially attacks the heart because an infection has settled into the heart.
“Per the autopsy, this was completely unrelated to his cancer/treatment, but I can’t help but believe that with better treatment protocols, that don’t lead to prolonged periods of time where patients are immune suppressed, Drew’s story could be different.” Wes said.
After nearly two years of treatment, several nights spent at Levine Children’s Hospital and now transitioning emotions of fear to grief, Wes and Mandy are continuously trying to find routine again and doing their best to be strong and move on with life, all the while being hit by certain comments, memories or situations that take us back to when they had him in our arms.
“I’ve learned what an honor and a blessing it is to be a parent, to be Drew’s Dad, and for my wife, Drew’s Mom – there is no greater blessing in this world for us and we’ll never lose that perspective,” Wes said.
As Wes and Many began to yet again find a “new normal”, Wes and Mandy met Josh and Barb Jones on the 11th floor of Levine Children’s Hospital as both of their children were fighting cancer and being treated on the same floor.
“Josh invited me to join Team LibStrong in 2014 and I haven’t looked back,” Wes said. “I had never been a cyclist, but after experiencing the energy of the event and the community of the riders I was hooked.”
For Wes, his favorite part of the event is riding after the midnight pizza party because it allows him to focus on what the ride is about – the children, adults and families that are in the middle of their fight or who have fought hard. Midnight to 3 a.m. is a time Wes says he spends thinking about and talking to Drew. A part from this special time Wes has on the course year after year, he enjoys how inclusive the event is with the Myers Park neighborhood rallying around the event, participants and cause.
“You can’t find a better group of people that all hate cancer,” Wes said.
Team Libstrong quickly transformed into Team Libstrong/Drew’s Crew to honor their babies Libby and Drew. Since being involved in 24 Foundation, the camaraderie of the event has extended well beyond neighborhood parties and his teammates, but to other participants who at first are complete strangers.
“I was blown away at the event this year when I was called over to meet a couple guys standing a few feet away. I walked over and Steve Kibler and Alex Vazquez introduced themselves,” Wes said. “I knew the names, but hadn’t had a chance to meet them in prior years. Steve told me about how the honor bikes came to be and turned the one he was holding around to show me that, this year, they were honoring Drew. It was a moment I’ll never forget – two guys that I had never met honoring our Drew just because they know how much it means to see your child’s name live on.”
At 24 Foundation, we believe as part of our mission to inspire and engage communities to actively support patient navigation and survivorship programs, that we serve those just diagnosed and those hard in battle, as well as create a legacy and fight on behalf for those who can no longer.