He had stage 4 cancer, Butler basketball fought with him, now 7 years later...a surprise

Dana Hunsinger Benbow
Indianapolis Star

AVON — Parker Adams got up early Monday morning. He usually likes to sleep in until 1 p.m. or so on his fall break. But his mom insisted on a family shopping trip. So Parker got up, got ready and soon realized that maybe there would be no shopping trip after all.

As he walked onto his front porch, the sun streaming, a crisp chill in the air, Parker saw a pudgy English bulldog chewing on his leash, and a very familiar face.

There was Alex Barlow, a giant from Parker's past, with an envelope in his hand. And inside were the papers Parker had been waiting for, so nervous he might never get to see the words: "You have been accepted to..."

"I just wanted to come and tell you you've been admitted to the class of 2026 at Butler," Barlow, a former Butler basketball player told Parker, 17, a senior in high school. "We look forward to having you as part of the Butler family."

Former Butler basketball player Alex Barlow and mascot Butler Blue pose for pictures with high school senior Parker Adams after he received his Butler acceptance letter Monday, Oct. 18, 2021, at his family's Avon home. In 2014, when Adams was 10, he was diagnosed with stage 4 Neuroblastoma. He became an honorary member of the basketball team during his fight with cancer, which he is now in remission from. "They really helped me get out of a dark place," Adams said.

Everyone who knows Parker knows that's been his dream, ever since he was 10 years old and the Butler basketball team, including Barlow, adopted him as a player.

"When I think of a bulldog, kind of everything you've been through -- perseverance, toughness -- that's what we want in a bulldog," Barlow told him. "And that's what you've been through your whole life..."

'Out of a dark place'

Parker was 10 when the scans came back -- all white from his neck to his hips. White was not good. White meant tumors.

They were on his pancreas, liver, stomach, kidneys and adrenal glands. They were wrapped around his aorta, on his vena cava and in 88% of his bone marrow.

It was August 2014 and the first week of school. Parker had a temperature of 99 and he'd had some leg pain during the summer. His pediatrician ran labs because despite the lack of alarming symptoms, Parker was alarmingly pale. Maybe he was anemic, maybe he had mono.

The doctor called the Adams the next day. Parker needed to go to floor five of Riley Hospital for Children.

Floor five was oncology.

Amy fell to the floor inside Riley when the doctors said the words. Parker had stage 4 neuroblastoma.

Parker Adams with the Butler Basketball team during their 2014-2015 season. Parker was fighting neuroblastoma cancer at the time.

Neuroblastoma is a rare cancer that develops in a part of the peripheral nervous system. About 700 children in the United States are diagnosed with the cancer each year. For Stage 4, the 5-year survival rate is 50%.

Amy remembers thinking of a coin flip, that her son's life hinged on which way the coin landed. There was a chance he would live. But the odds, they were terrifying.

Parker, though, he was different.

"I do remember getting the news. It was quite shocking," he said. "But I think from the moment it happened, I always knew I would recover."

Parker never got mad or asked why me. He researched the disease and read about the medicines he was getting. He never complained. Not when he was in the hospital for weeks at a time, not when he felt sick from the chemotherapy, not when he was stuck at home too weak to see his friends.

There is a reason for that, Parker says, and that reason was right there on his front porch Monday morning.

"They really helped me get out of a dark place," he said.

Former Butler basketball player Alex Barlow (left) and mascot Butler Blue present an acceptance letter to high school senior Parker Adams on Monday, Oct. 18, 2021, at his family's Avon home. In 2014, when Adams was 10, he was diagnosed with stage 4 Neuroblastoma. He became an honorary member of the basketball team during his fight with cancer, which he is now in remission from. "They really helped me get out of a dark place," Adams said.

'They were there to lift me up'

Not long after Parker's diagnosis -- then-Butler coach Chris Holtmann called Parker's dad, Scott Adams, who had resigned his post as Herron's basketball coach to be with his son.

"What can we do?" Scott remembers Holtmann asking him. He had no idea. But Holtmann did. Butler basketball wanted to adopt Parker as a member of the team. They wanted him at every game he could make. They wanted him in the locker room with them. They wanted him on the court dribbling and shooting.

Parker Adams was 10 when he was diagnosed with cancer.

"That was super exciting," Parker said. "It was so cool to follow them around at their legs like a little kid; it was great."   

Parker remembers feeling so little next to those big heroes inside Hinkle Fieldhouse. But for some reason, they felt like his very own protectors. And they were.

"They really included me in everything," he said. "They really made me feel like I was a Bulldog from the start." 

They never talked about the cancer. They focused on Parker.

"It was just always great having him there," Barlow said. "He gave us positive energy when he was there."

But nothing, Parker says, like the energy he got from the team.

"When I first was diagnosed, when I was first going through that, they really were there immediately," he said, "to lift me up and bring me into a better state of mind where I could recover a lot faster."

Parker Adams with the Butler Basketball team during their 2014-2015 season. Parker was fighting neuroblastoma cancer at the time.

Parker did recover and he is cancer-free. When the scans came back clear, and Parker got the news, he started crying and then fell asleep. Finally, Amy said, he could rest. 

Some of the people happiest to hear of Parker's cancer-free scans were his Butler heroes.

"They did something for him that we'll never be able to repay," Amy said. "They brought him a lot of joy and it gave him so much hope. Ever since then, that's all he's talked about."

And that's why Parker wanted so badly to go to Butler.

'Always light at the end of the tunnel'

"I had backup plans," Parker said Monday, smiling. "But I was gunning for Butler the whole time."

He had no idea the news of his acceptance would come so soon.

"This was such a surprise for me. I did not expect this at all," he said. "I was so nervous that I wasn't going to get in."

From the moment he walked onto campus seven years ago, Butler felt like home to Parker. And he never wavered in where he wanted to go to college. 

He will study pre-pharmacy and then pharmaceuticals. His cancer journey led him to that major.

"I really wanted to give back what has been given to me," he said. Parker's goal is to work with MIGB. Iodine-123 meta-iodobenzylguanidine, or MIGB, is a nuclear medicine used in scans to detect tumors such as those that develop with neuroblastoma.

Every six months, Parker would get those scans and that first one that was clear, not one speck of white, even doctors couldn't believe, Amy said.

"He's still kind of like a marvel at Riley," she said. "They don't know. They don't know. They just don't know. They can't explain it."

Doctors can't explain it but Parker can. 

"My biggest message is to really stay positive. I think that has the biggest impact on recovery more than anything else," he said. "Just stay positive and know that there's hope. There's always a light at the end of the tunnel."

One of those lights for Parker came Monday morning.

Follow IndyStar sports reporter Dana Benbow on Twitter: @DanaBenbow. Reach her via email: dbenbow@indystar.com.