Amy Adams is a glass half-full person. Always positive and upbeat. Never phased by tough odds.
Sure, that might be an easy attitude to adopt when life is going well. But ask her about her son, Parker. Maybe his story could have shaken that optimism.
In 2014, Parker, now 12, was diagnosed with stage 4 neuroblastoma, a cancer that forms in nerve tissue. The cancer started in one adrenal gland, and then it spread to the other. It wrapped around his aorta and spread to the vena cava, kidney, liver and 88 percent of his bone marrow.
He was given a 50/50 chance of survival. Maybe, just maybe, she’d let some pessimism slip through.
Oh, not a chance.
Amy’s glass was still half-full. Why wouldn’t it be? That’s how Amy and her husband, Scott, live. That’s how Parker lives, too.
“Once Parker’s diagnosis sunk in, it was like, all right, let’s go and when it’s all over, we’ll have a good story to tell,” Amy said. “That’s how we did it.”
“You can’t beat that.”
It was just some leg pain that summer. Must be from soccer, Parker’s parents thought. Then, back pain. But Parker had just been to the trampoline park. No cause for much alarm.
Parker’s parents, both teachers, were at work when his grandmother took him to a pediatrician due to a fever. It was that next day when the Adams got the phone call from their pediatrician: You need to get Parker to Riley.
“Once we got the diagnosis, it was pretty quick as far as treatment started,” Amy said.
Because Parker’s cancer was wrapped around the vena cava, physicians told the family that it was inoperable. So he underwent four rounds of chemo to begin treatment.
And that’s when Parker started winning against cancer.
Parker 1, Cancer 0. That’s a refrain the Adams like to use. If you’re keeping score, that’s a shutout. That’s exactly what happened.
On the second round of scans, well, that was the first bit of good news—there were just a few spots left. That’s right, only 3 months after treatment started, the cancer was almost all gone.
But treatment continued, and it wasn’t easy on Parker. He went through it all during the next year and a half—after chemo, there was surgery, then radiation, then stem cell treatment and then antibody therapy.
During his treatment, Parker’s family, the Riley staff and the community rallied around him. Of course, they were there cheering for someone who was going to win.
There was the nurse, Jake, who worked night shifts. For Parker, antibody therapy was a painful experience. Even the Adams were wavering, wondering whether they wanted to keep going with that treatment.
Jake was there to make sure Parker made it through. Jake promised he’d be there anytime Parker was there. And he followed through—Jake began taking on extra shifts to care for Parker, made sure everything was ready for him and even played video games to cheer up Parker.
“He was what got us through it,” Amy said.
But there was more from Riley. Parker found comfort in the Music Therapy and Art Therapy programs, and he found comfort in his care team.
“The staff was able to talk to him and talk to him like a normal kid and not a sick kid,” Amy said. “They would just come and hang out with him.”
Parker’s parents made a lot of sacrifices during his treatment. Amy was allowed to leave her teaching position for a year. Scott, meanwhile, stepped down from coaching basketball at Herron High School.
When Scott stepped down—a story that made local news—Butler men’s basketball coach Chris Holtmann reached out. The Butler basketball team soon became a second family for Parker.
Holtmann and the players text Parker frequently, asking him about he’s doing. One time, before stem cell treatment began, Parker was going to have a skating party with some classmates.
Amy invited the Butler team, sure that they wouldn’t actually make it. She was wrong: the entire team, the coaching staff—they all showed up. The players put on skates, hung out with Parker and his friends that day.
There were other moments, too, such as the Imagine Dragons concert when the band mid-concert dedicated a song to Parker and made the crowd cheer for him. (They were Parker’s favorite band, of course.) He’s met Indianapolis Colts players, given speeches now about his treatment journey.
“That’s the stuff these kids need because it is awful for them,” Amy said. “When you are older and used to being social and can’t be social, it kind of gives them something to life their spirits. He’s had a lot of that.”
Parker’s body responded wonderfully to treatment. Stem cell treatment was supposed to take up to 8 weeks. He was done after 26 days.
Parker’s most recent scans were clear again. He gets them now just twice a year. He’s back in school after missing a year. The 7th grader is “living the Xbox dream,” his mom said. He’s enrolled in a gymnastics class, working to regain strength lost during treatment.
It’s a journey that’s helped the Adams learn more about themselves.
“It is so cliché, you speed through life,” Amy said. “Once something like this happens, we stopped. You realize that you need to slow down, that you need to start enjoying each other and stop worrying about little stuff.”
And Parker? Sure, there are plenty of reasons for optimism. There always was. There always will be.
“In his mind, it’s ‘I beat cancer, no big deal,’” Amy said about her son. “I don’t even know if he gets it, how amazing that is. He will when he is older. We know.”
“For him, it was just, ‘I beat cancer. What’s next?’”