throw strikes against leukemia
By Jeff Gallatin
Published May 10, 2006
Lee, shown with her son Jaxon, and her husband, Cliff Lee of
the Cleveland Indians, are committed to helping the fight against
leukemia. (Photo by Larry Bennet)
As Mother’s Day nears, Bay Village mother Kristen
Lee and her husband, Cleveland Indian’s stalwart pitcher Cliff Lee,
remain committed to throwing strikes to help the Leukemia and Lymphoma
Society and parents who’ve dealt with situations similar to their
Both Lees became
involved as parents with the organization because their 5-year-old
son, Jaxon, is in remission after
being diagnosed and treated several years ago for an aggressive
form of leukemia.
“We feel blessed
as parents that Jax has recovered so well from the leukemia and
that he has been in remission for some time,” Kristen Lee said.
“We also are fortunate that we’ve been placed in a position where
Cliff, as a baseball player, is in a position to be able to do something
about the problems and help try and solve them by getting people
Both Lees literally
are walking the walk and doing more than just talking about the
problems caused by leukemia. They are serving as the honorary co-chairs
for the Light the Night Walk being held Sept. 17 at Jacobs Field.
The annual walk raises funds for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society
as well as awareness of how blood cancer diseases affect people.
Cliff said he’s
more than willing to use his celebrity status to help advance research
and people’s awareness of the disease.
“If people are willing to listen to me because
I’m a ballplayer, then I’m happy to tell them about it,” Lee said.
“It’s tough as a parent seeing your child in that position.”
the Indians, are also involved. Ken Stefanov, chief financial officer
for the Indians, is serving as the corporate chairman for the Light
the Night walks, which in addition to Jacobs Field, will also take
place in Cuyahoga Falls and Toledo in northern Ohio. For Stefanov,
the mission is also personal because of family.
Anne Stefanov, died in July last year from leukemia,” Stefanov said.
“My mom faced it with courage, and I’m very committed to finding
a cure, not just for my mother’s memory but for all the people and
their family and friends who have to deal with it.”
the corporate portion of the Light the Night walks campaign is being
kicked off May 17 with a noon to 1:30 p.m. luncheon at the Terrace
Club in Jacobs Field.
it’s no surprise to the Indians that the Lees are involved in the
kind of people,” Stefanov said. “They’re very caring and willing
to help others.”
when they first were made aware of Jaxon’s condition several years
ago when he was just four months old, it came as a shock.
“No one in either
of our families had had to deal with it before this,” she said.
“It’s not something you expect to happen to you. It’s tough in any
situation I would imagine, but to have it happen to a baby made
it really hard.”
She said one
part that made it a little easier to cope with was that it happened
near the end of the 2001 minor league baseball season, since Cliff
was still in the minor leagues at the time. It started with Jaxon
going to the emergency room for a high fever. After several tests
– including blood work – he was initially diagnosed with a urinary
“After that, Cliff went to the ballpark to
pitch the last game of the season,” Kristen said. “A few hours later,
the blood tests came back and the doctor said it might be leukemia
and that he needed to be transferred to the Orlando hospital. That
was something we just weren’t ready for.”
Jaxon was then
diagnosed with acute mylelogenous leukemia, a very aggressive form
of leukemia, the blood cancer. He was given a 30 percent chance
“It was rough
on us as parents because you just want to help because he was just
a baby,” Cliff said.
After the diagosis,
the family flew home to Arkansas and began treatment.
“It was tough
because we were dealing with something like this, and back then
Cliff wasn’t in the major leagues,” Kristen said. “We didn’t have
the resources then that we’re fortunate to have now.”
the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society and was given materials which
helped educate her about the disease.
“All the people
in the organization have always been helpful in a lot of ways with
educational material, emotional support and friendship,” Kristen
said. “It’s a big reason we want to help them now that we’re more
able to. The organization has been a big help throughout all of
months of therapy and radiation treatment, Jaxon relapsed and required
radiation treatment on his right eye. This lowered his chance of
survival, medical officials said.
“It put me as
a parent in a defense mode the whole time,” Kristen said. “My energy
was focused on educating myself about leukemia and serving as an
advocate for Jax through all his treatments.”
For Cliff, who’s
known for his tough demeanor on the pitching mound, baseball has
served several purposes when it comes to dealing with what happened
“When I needed
to focus on something else for a while, I could go out there and
just focus on pitching,” Cliff said.
And when he
isn’t pitching, Cliff said his ability to focus exclusively on something
helps when he wants to help his family.
On Feb. 1, 2002,
Jaxon underwent a cord blood stem transplant in San Antonio, Texas,
and in less than two weeks he was showing major improvements.
amazing now,” Kristen said. “He’s like any other happy and health
5-year-old playing with his younger sister (Maci) and getting into
Cliff said based
on Jax’s behavior you wouldn’t know he’d been ill.
“You can barely
remember it sometimes,” Cliff said.
her son has definitely inherited his father’s athletic toughness.
“Just ask him
what he wants to be,” she said.
“I want to be
an athlete,” Jaxon happily responds.
Cliff and Kristen
will tell you friends and family are a big help, with Kristen reiterating
that they want to help others.
“We hope that
something can be gained by sharing the experience our family went
through and that those who are touched by cancer will find hope
and strength to fight their disease,” Kristen said.
For further information, visit the Society Web site