Adam Cruthirds ’20 was having one of the most exciting summers of his life when he was diagnosed with cancer. After returning from a river rafting trip, he noticed intense pain in his hands. Adam’s family doctor ran tests that Sunday night, and, upon discovering that his white blood cell count was 40 times higher than normal, made an appointment for Adam at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital for Monday morning. He was about to start his junior year of high school.
Cruthirds was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia, or ALL, which is the most common type of cancer in children. He began chemotherapy the day of his diagnosis, but doctors soon discovered that he was allergic to the initial medicines in his treatment. The alternative chemotherapy, of which Cruthirds would need 85 doses, had a sticker price totaling $2.5 million. St. Jude never asked the Cruthirds family for a penny.
“I’m pretty lucky to be from Memphis,” says Cruthirds, “and I’m lucky that St. Jude was right in my backyard.” Since its opening in 1962, St. Jude has upped the ALL survival rate for its patients from four percent to 94 percent, all without burdening patients and their families with payment. This success, paired with such altruism, astounded Cruthirds, and inspired him to take action.
“It’s better to do something than sit around and feel like crap,” says Cruthirds. With this mentality, he took time during his chemotherapy treatments to brainstorm fundraising ideas for the hospital. He called upon Rick Shadyac, the CEO of American Lebanese Syrian Associate Charities (ALSAC), St. Jude’s fundraising and awareness organization, to help him think of strategies to raise money. Shadyac gladly joined him, and together they narrowed their focus around popular athletic events that St. Jude already hosted. The result would be “Adam’s Army.”
Adam’s Army gained momentum by forming teams to participate in the annual St. Jude walks, bike rides, and marathons. Cruthirds believed that if people saw him, a cancer patient, actively walking, biking, and running in these events, they would be more inspired to donate and host their own events for his cause. Shadyac liked his proposal, and challenged him to raise $100,000. The timing allowed Cruthirds to adopt Adam’s Army as his senior independent study project at St. George’s School in Memphis. He learned marketing and business strategies that would help him reach his goal, even as he worked toward it. Today, Cruthirds has surpassed his original goal—Adam’s Army has already raised more than $250,000.
During his cancer fight and leadership of Adam’s Army, Cruthirds found his future at Rhodes College. “I chose Rhodes because of my love for Memphis and because of the many connections that Rhodes has to the city,” says Cruthirds. That Rhodes is on the same street as St. Jude helped solidify his decision to stay close to home for college, as he will be receiving chemotherapy treatments until March 2017.
Cruthirds hopes to expand the reach of Adam’s Army with the help of the service-minded students at Rhodes. Many of his new Rhodes friends participated in the St. Jude Walk/Run that took place in September as a part of Adam’s Army, and some have even visited the hospital with him when he has gone to get treatment.
Cruthirds is considering a business major, with the tentative goal of finding a career in marketing or management. In the meantime, he has enjoyed getting to know his dormmates, and has found his niche on campus by joining the Ultimate Frisbee team, getting plugged into the Rhodes Activity Board, and exploring the music department.
By Katherine Hancock ’19