How a family fought cancer together

Story highlights

  • The Shepard family discovered when son Maddox was 2 that he had leukemia
  • Maddox's mom, Geri, was diagnosed with breast cancer two years later
  • St. Baldrick's, a nonprofit dedicated to raising awareness for childhood cancer, helped them connect with other families

(CNN)In June 2009, Brad and Geri Shepard took their two young children to visit their grandparents, expecting a nice vacation and quality time for the whole family.

But Grandma Shepard was worried as soon as she saw 2-year-old Maddox step out of the car. He looked pale, Brad said. Over the course of the weekend, the normally active toddler was tired, lacked an appetite and developed a fever. The previous month, Maddox had fevers and bruising, which his pediatrician chalked up to viruses and playing at the playground.
Brad and Geri thought they were being overanxious, but Grandma Shepard's reaction was enough to convince Geri that she should call the doctor at home and request a blood test.
    Maddox registered as anemic with low blood counts. After a bone marrow biopsy, it was confirmed that Maddox had acute lymphoblastic leukemia. He was put into isolation and began chemotherapy immediately. Maddox was scared. His parents were terrified.
    "How do you begin to explain this to a child?" Geri said. "At any age, cancer is awful, but for a kid, it's devastating. They should be having playdates instead of chemotherapy."