When KRGV-TV meteorologist Alan Shoemaker was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia in February, colleague and friend Tim Smith knew he had to help.
“I’ve been sitting next to Alan for the last 10 or 11 years every day, and have gotten to know him pretty well,” said Smith, KRGV chief meteorologist. “It’s just devastating when he was getting sick and to find out what it was.”
Smith said mutual friends organized something small, but “the response has been overwhelming.”
“I think the event is just for people that appreciate Alan and everything he’s done,” said Smith.
And it was Shoemaker’s call on whether to publicize, he said.
“I admire that. I’ve heard him tell other people … who are sick, ‘we’ve got to fight this,’” Smith said. “‘We’re fighters. We can’t be down about this. We’ve got to be strong.’
“To hear him be that way given his situation is remarkable.”
Through Al’s Pals, his friends planned Al’s Pals Filling the SHOEbox to raise money for Shoemaker.
A $10 cover gets a beer and appetizers while they auction “one-of-a-kind items and services:” two members passes to the Sunday round of the 2019 Masters Golf Tournament; game-day, assistant-coach experience with the UTRGV Vaqueros women’s basketball team; lunch with TV personalities, concert tickets and more.
“Insurance covers a lot, but it doesn’t cover everything,” Smith said.
FOCUSING ON GETTING BETTER
Shoemaker was vacationing in Las Vegas last January when he got sick. After a hike, the weatherman said he felt unusually tired.
After spending days of his trip in bed, Shoemaker struggled to pack, “stagger(ing) through the airport with (his) bag,” he said.
“‘You look really pale,’” he recalls a woman telling him as they waited to fly to the Rio Grande Valley. Shoemaker went to the doctor when he arrived and was admitted to the hospital after his hemoglobin levels were extremely low.
Tests for infection and internal bleeding were clear, so he was transferred to the McAllen Medical Center oncology department.
After days of tests, he was sent home with a range of possible explanations. He came back when they were sure it was AML, his appointment already set for MD Anderson Cancer Center.
Shoemaker wore Mardi Gras beads in the hospital during his first round of chemo, celebrating, said the man Smith called “probably the funniest guy he’s ever met.”
He was undergoing treatment eight days after his diagnosis, he said.
“It happened so fast that I didn’t have a lot of time to think about it,” he said.
MD Anderson offered a clinical trial treatment with a 98 percent remission rate over two years.
“Well, sign me up,” Shoemaker said.
His first round of chemo went well. A rash marked his body, but he felt fortunate to not feel the side effects he’d heard about.
‘YOU RUN INTO PEOPLE FROM ALL OVER THE PLACE
Shoemaker’s new community “sits there and tells you stories,” he said.
“Everyone sits there and tells you stories,” he said of his hospital stays. “You run into people from all over the place” with diverse paths.
“Everyone has their own story about how they got here,” Shoemaker added.
Some people don’t talk about it, Shoemaker said, but since his cancer, people have opened up about their friends and family who shared his diagnosis.
He hopes the conversation promotes “clearer pictures of what to do” for people.
“I’d like to at least share my story and tell people that there’s a good chance you can beat this disease,” he said of the blood cancer. “It’s not like the end of the world when you get Leukemia, now.”
Shoemaker focuses on getting better, whether it takes three months, five months or a year.”
He hopes to be back at work by the summer.
“The station has been good to me and given me the time I need to beat the cancer and recover,” he said. “I feel great right now. I could probably walk into work the next day, except for the fact that I have no hair right now and I have more chemotherapy.”
“I’d look a little different.”
Alan has a joke for everything, Smith said.
“It’s hard to get a serious line out of Alan because he’s just so funny.”
Smith was passionate about increasing awareness.
“If it wasn’t this dear friend that sits next to me every day, it would be tough to get into an individual cause, because there are so many,” Smith said. “If I’ve got to means to do that, I have to do that. I can’t mess around.”
Smith said this sheds light on the idea that cancer does not discriminate.
“He’s in the best physical condition of anyone I know. He doesn’t drink. He doesn’t smoke. He exercises,” Smith said, “but yet, this wretched disease got him.”
Smith emphasized Be The Match, a bone-marrow matching organization, would sign up blood marrow donors.
While Shoemaker does not need blood marrow now, he did ask for plasma donations in his “Day 23” Facebook post:
***Update Sunday morning: Doctor says the latest blood test shows my body is starting to make more of its own white blood cells…so probably won’t need white cells now. Be ready though..I might be in the same situation 30 or 60 days from now if I get another infection after the next chemos. Any plasma donations are still welcome if you are in the area…but they wouldn’t be specific to me.***
Shoemaker said he’s staying positive.
“Keep the goal in focus and not sit around worrying about what could happen,” he said. “I just try to stay focused on doing everything right to give myself the best chance” to get healthy.
“You might go through some rough weeks or months, there’s always the lights at the end of the tunnel and that’s what you have to focus on.”
Al’s Pals – Filling the SHOEbox transactions can be made through their GoFundMe or Facebook page.
WHERE: University Draft House
WHEN: Sunday, March 25 at 4 p.m., auction at 6 p.m.