Carolyn Coveney, a lively 5-year-old from Falls Church, and Alexandra Scott, an 8-year-old from suburban Philadelphia, do not know one another. But the two girls are linked by neuroblastoma, a cancer found almost exclusively in children younger than 10.
Alex, as she prefers to be called, decided four years ago to operate a lemonade stand and donate the money to "help kids get better." Her first stand, in 2000, raised $2,000 in a single day. Since then, Alex's idea has spread across the country.
Yesterday, Carolyn's parents, Jennifer Click and Gordon Coveney, were among the volunteers who planned to set up more than 300 lemonade stands in every state to meet Alex's one-day goal -- $1 million, all for pediatric cancer research. According to Alex's Web site (www.alexslemonade.com), lemonade stands also operated in Damascus and Annapolis.
"This is totally all a little girl with a big heart," Click said at the bright yellow wooden stand in front of the Giant grocery store in Falls Plaza in Falls Church. "This is her dream."
Neuroblastoma is relatively rare, affecting about 600 children a year in the United States, according to the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, where Carolyn has been treated. The disease often begins in the adrenal glands and spreads throughout the body.
Alex's illness was diagnosed when she was a year old. Though she has weakened recently, she has appeared on the "Today" show and "The Oprah Winfrey Show" to promote her fundraising efforts.
Click said she knew little about childhood cancer until Carolyn's Stage IV neuroblastoma, the most severe stage of the disease, was diagnosed last year.
"It just blows your whole life apart," she said. "It's like someone dropped a bomb."
Carolyn embarked on an aggressive treatment regimen that included chemotherapy, an 11-hour surgery to remove her primary tumor, a stem cell transplant and 14 cycles of radiation.
Today, Carolyn is "NED" -- no evidence of disease -- although she continues to take oral chemotherapy drugs and an antibody treatment, and her family said there's still a long way to go. Only half the children with neuroblastoma reach the NED stage, and half of those will have a relapse, her family said.
"Maybe when she's 40, I can relax," Click said.
Yesterday, however, there was little sign of illness. Carolyn's hair, long and blond before her treatments, is growing back in soft brown. She has returned to kindergarten and planned to be in a dance recital later in the day. She appeared to enjoy the lemonade as much as her customers.
"I've had four glasses -- actually, five," she said at one of the few moments she settled down to talk. "I like to have a lot of lemonade."
Many customers paid $20 for their 50-cent cup of lemonade, which was donated by area stores. Others skipped the lemonade and just left checks. By midday, the stand had raised $2,000.
Meg Crossett of Centreville, whose 6-year-old daughter, Rachel, died of neuroblastoma in 2001, handed out fliers to shoppers as they walked into and out of the busy grocery store.
The community of those affected by neuroblastoma is small, Crossett said. "I know about Alex, I know where they are" mentally, she said. "I want to see her get her million dollars."