Adrienne Slaughter was 14 years old when she was diagnosed with bone cancer and given a 1 percent chance of survival. She went from high school tennis champ to amputee in a matter of two weeks but lived to tell her story—one she has shared with a smile for 34 years that included a bout with breast cancer.
Jack Witherspoon is 14 years old today. Throughout his life, Witherspoon has battled, and beat, leukemia three times. With each challenge, his chance of survival grew smaller. While he would undergo treatment for two to three years, he’d lose his hair and grow weak. But the love of his family kept him going. Isolated from friends due to a weakened immune system, Witherspoon took to the telephone and online video games to keep in touch.
Despite the 34-year age gap between them, an energy of grace, inspiration and mutual admiration was palpable as they recently met for lunch on a sunny patio to talk about their upcoming Adrienne’s Search for Children’s Cancer Cure fundraiser on March 7 in Hermosa Beach. Slaughter is the event host, in conjunction with the Woman’s Club of Hermosa Beach, and Witherspoon is the guest speaker. He admitted he’s a little nervous to get up and speak in front of others—he usually has a cooking demonstration to keep his hands busy while he talks in public, but he’ll get past that.
Listening intently to one another’s stories, they smiled every time the word “survivor” popped up, letting out a chuckle or exchanging a high five. Their smiles were infectious.
As opposed to dwelling on the fear of being diagnosed and undergoing treatment, Slaughter and Witherspoon instead focused on what’s next, figuring out what they can do to help others and bring awareness to pediatric cancer. Both expressed deep gratitude for the family, friends and strangers who helped keep them going through their battles and choose to be thankful that they are able to wake up every morning. They choose to pay it forward by serving others. Both talked about the importance of early detection and regular physicals, and they encourage people to keep lines of communication open with doctors when something doesn’t feel right.
Witherspoon, who lives in Redondo Beach, already has a cookbook under his belt and interviews on several national talk shows from Jay Leno to Rachel Ray. He’s raised more than $100,000 for an endowment at Miller Children’s Hospital and has a room named after him—the Chef Jack Witherspoon Room. His unassuming smile and sweet demeanor welcome people into his story.
Cooking got him through treatment and gave him something to look forward to. He and his mom would watch the Food Network in the hospital and plan elaborate dishes and dinners to make when he got home. That gave him a purpose to make plans for the future and get excited about doing something with family, in his home. He had the power to create.
This year, he is the Boy of the Year for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society (LLS), and he’s excited to speak at Slaughter’s event next month.
“I really, really enjoy (being a spokesperson). It’s fun being able to share my story and I love talking to all these different cancer survivors,” Witherspoon said, turning to Slaughter. “I mean, it’s awesome talking to you. It’s awesome meeting you and all these other people who have survived cancer, just like me. It’s awesome to see this community that’s survived cancer. It really makes you feel very connected.”
Slaughter, who lives in Hermosa Beach, became a motivational speaker, with a mission to “help cancer patients (and) survivors smile more brightly.” And she did return to that tennis court. She leads an active beach life today.
As a teenager, Slaughter was awarded Speaker of the Year from United Way and Volunteer of the Year from the American Cancer Society. Nine years ago, on her 25th anniversary of being bone cancer free, she founded the Annual Adrienne’s Search for Children’s Cancer Cure to raise money for pediatric cancer research, one of the most underfunded subsets of oncology research.
“Every year we do a different kids cancer group or foundation or organization,” Slaughter said.
This year’s event to benefit LLS’ pediatric cancer research efforts will be held at the Hermosa Beach Kiwanis Hall, 2515 Valley Drive, in Hermosa Beach on Saturday, March 7, at 5 p.m. The family event is open to the public. Tickets are $30. The evening will be catered, with live music, a speech by Witherspoon, a silent auction and crafts for children. To purchase a ticket, visit womansclubofhermosabeach.org or call Slaughter at (310) 940-9200. For more information about Slaughter and her annual event, visit adriennespeaking.com.