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For this New Jersey family, gratitude and joy emerged from the childhood cancer journey

For the Adkins family, gratitude and joy are central to the childhood cancer journey
For the Adkins family, gratitude and joy are central to the childhood cancer journey 04:05

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — Gratitude. Joy. Blessed. Those aren't words you expect to hear from a childhood cancer family. 

"I remember thinking, 'Wow, we're lucky,'" said Trish Adkins, whose daughter Lily had cancer as a child.

But that's the Adkins family's mantra. They feel lucky their daughter is not only alive but thriving and inspiring. 

When Lily was just 13 months old, her parents thought she had a stomach bug. But after several trips to the pediatrician, life changed. 

"She used this word 'glioma' that we had never heard of before. And she's like, a lot of childhood gliomas are really treatable. And I was like … I don't know what that means," Lily's mom Trish Adkins said. 

Things got even worse at Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, where Lily was diagnosed with a brain tumor, ependymoma.

"Her journey started that day and that night at CHOP," Trish Adkins said.

There was surgery, tumor removal, and a shunt placed to drain fluid. That shunt would fail, twice. And there's a possibility it could happen again.

But cancer certainly does not define Lily.

She's a rower for the South Jersey Rowing Club and just received a scholarship to row for Division II Dominican University in New York.

"Rowing is honestly just like there is no care in the world," Lily said. "You don't have to care about what's happening on land, anything, you're just on the water. And if you're not focusing, well, you're gonna fall in. And so you have to focus on that and only that."

Lily will be a para-rower, and she wants to show other young people with disabilities that they can be athletes, too.

"From Lily, who couldn't walk, to seeing her now pursuing the sport she loves … and not just pursuing rowing, but embracing her disability and her difference and using that to lead — I think she's adapted her whole life and to show how like that adaptation doesn't make her weak, it makes her strong," Trish Adkins said. 

She'll major in special education.

"I really wanna help kids learn the way they learn," Lily said, "and not the way some teacher or principal said they have to."

The whole family wants to teach people, too — about Alex's Lemonade Stand Foundation.

Two photos, one of Lily and her siblings wearing Alex's Lemonade Stand gear, the other of Lily holding a black dog
Adkins family

Trish Adkins met Liz Scott, co-executive director of Alex's Lemonade Stand, at CHOP when Lily was first diagnosed.

"She came back with armfuls of Alex's gear and swag," Lily's dad Mike Adkins said. "From there on we were in, you know, and we were part of that family. And we ended up having a lemonade stand not that long after."

In fact, in 2015, the Adkins broke the world record for the largest cup of lemonade.

The Adkins family in front of a huge cup of lemonade. The text says Lily's big grand lemonade stand and world record attempt, 2015, $19,449
Adkins family

Despite all they've been through, it all comes back to their motto, they're one lucky family.

"We are really lucky. And I think that's like the difference between the before and the after," Trish Adkins said. "I don't think before I realized how much good there was in the world."

"I think of it as I wanna help others because others help me," Lily said. 

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