Chili's server discusses his time as a St. Jude patient

Patient Adam Walston

Adam Walston is a Chili’s Grill & Bar server diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL) in 1993 at age 8 and treated at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital from 1993 - 1995 by Dr. Ching-Hon Pui, one of the world’s most renowned researchers in childhood leukemias. Adam graduated August 5 from Chattanooga State with a Radiologic Technology degree, is working as an X-ray tech and continuing his education to obtain a degree in radiation therapy. When he grows up, he wants to perform radiation therapy at St. Jude. Adam recently spoke about his relationship with St. Jude and what that means to his work at Chili’s Grill & Bar and the Create-A-Pepper campaign.

How did you become a patient at St. Jude?   

Christmas 1992, I received a pair of roller skates. Later that day I fell and hurt my back. I began having spasms and later learned I had fractured five vertebrae. It took a couple of months and several stays at different hospitals for us to finally learn how it was possible for an 8-year-old to suffer such a tremendous injury from a not-so-serious fall. My regular pediatrician, and close family friend, suggested a bone marrow test be done, which did reveal my diagnosis of leukemia (ALL). The cancer had de-calcified my bones, causing the fractures. I was immediately referred to  St. Jude, where I began my two and a half year treatment. 

What drew you to work for Chili’s Grill & Bar?    

I was looking for a new place to serve tables, and their restaurant was new and busy. I wanted to work in a busy and fun environment, which I had been informed, was the case by several good friends. Chili’s is a very inviting place with great food, and I had several friends working there.

How do you feel about the commitment Chili’s has made to St. Jude?  

I think it is awesome. They are trying to do something great. Not many people strive for greatness, but they are. Even better is that they are giving their guests the chance to be a part of it. Chili’s has pledged a big number to help fund the Chili’s Care Center, which I believe shows the level of commitment they have for St. Jude and what St. Jude is striving for… a cure. That’s what it all comes down to. I am just glad that I have been given this opportunity to do my small part, letting them use my name and story to hopefully inspire not only ChiliHeads but guests as well.

What are you planning to do this Create-A-Pepper campaign to raise more money and awareness?

I will continue to be directly involved in the campaign. I am hoping that this will bring a big turn out to my local restaurant, which I plan on being very involved in. I am going to push for a big number there. I live in a very strong community, which I believe can and will show up in a big way.

Does your St. Jude experience inspire your team members and peers?  

I feel it does. I think cancer has touched a majority of people’s lives in some way or another, so it is easy for people to not only be sympathetic to my story, but also to relate on a personal level. My story and relationships may help in creating a bridge between their individual realities and the reality of what Chili’s is trying to do. I think during this year’s Create-A-Pepper campaign, my team members will feel more connected to what we are doing because of personally knowing someone who is a survivor because of St. Jude.

Do you currently volunteer for St. Jude? If so, how do you balance that with working and attending college full-time?

Unfortunately, I live on the east side of the state, so I am not able to volunteer. However, it is a desire of mine to not only continue my education, but also to go back to St. Jude and be a part of their work force. I want to be on the other side, where, hopefully, I can be a source of encouragement for other patients. I want to tell them that they can make it. They just have to do what their doctors tell them, believe, keep pushing and be positive.

How did your St. Jude experience inspire your future career path?

Being a patient at St. Jude was the main determining factor in my career choice. I decided at a young age that I wanted to be a part of the health care community. I wanted to give back, to support others, like I was once. Most importantly, I wanted to be a source of encouragement, of hope. Not only was my decision to work in the health care field based on my time at St. Jude, but it also has been a large influence on the person I have become.

What do you hope to do once you’ve graduated to continue bringing awareness to St. Jude?

I hope that I can continue to be a part of the Chili’s campaign. I would love to have some sort of recurring role in what they are doing. Also, now that I have a little more free time, I am hoping to be more involved in other fundraisers and activities.

September 2008