The weight of devastation when one learns their toddler has a brain tumor can be like an anchor, first dropping from your heart into your stomach, down through your legs and eventually engulfing your feet. It can be paralyzing.
But for Ashley and Erikk Shepherd, they had little time to think or grieve when they learned their 3-year-old son, Knox, had a large mass on his brain and needed emergency surgery. Since then, they’ve acted with unrelenting speed to save and take care of their oldest child and done so with compassion and grace.
First, it was emergency surgery just a day after Thanksgiving 2021when Knox vomited and complained of pain and pressure in his head. Then, it was quickly relocating the family to Memphis, Tennessee, so Knox could be treated at St. Jude Hospital with 30 rounds of proton radiation and then chemotherapy in hopes of fully ridding his head of an anaplastic ependymoma, a rare tumor that forms when cells in the central nervous system begin to multiply rapidly.
And now, even with Knox still battling cancer and just barely a half-year removed from his diagnosis, it’s quickly organizing a blood drive to give back. Knox has needed two blood transfusions so far to recover from the grueling chemotherapy treatments and could need more. The Shepherds feel that encouraging others to donate blood is the least they can do to give back for all the help and support they have received.
“We just want to help in whatever capacity we can,” Ashley said. “We want to pay it forward for someone else.”
In mid-May, less than two weeks after the Shepherds returned home to Louisville, Kentucky Blood Center teamed up with the Shepherd to host in-center blood drives in Knox’s honor. Although few could imagine being in the shoes of the Shepherds, it was the Shepherds putting themselves in someone else’s shoes that motivated them to organize the blood drive.
Knox’s blood type is AB+, which means he can receive blood from donors of any type). Ashley started to think about if the role was reversed. What if Knox could only receive blood from a small blood group, Ashley thought?
“Everyone is asking what they can do to help, I just kept thinking if he couldn’t receive any type of blood, what I would do,” Ashley said. “I just want to encourage more people to donate.”
While his parents love on him and find ways to thank others for their unwavering support, Knox has fought cancer like the superheroes he admires, often dressing up as one of them (Spider-Man is his favorite) as he fights the disease.
When he’s not at the doctor undergoing tests or treatments or taking naps to recover, Knox is with his baby brother, Sterling, playing on the floor.
“He’s been a trooper through all of it,” Ashley said. “He’s kicking butt.”