They may have never met Sammy May, but folks in several north Tampa area communities have come together recently to help him—and his family—stay strong.
May, a recent Steinbrenner High graduate, completed boot camp and was in his first week of classes at the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy when he developed a cough. His mother, worried by the sound of it during a Skype conversation, told him to go to the doctor, longtime family friend Patrice Eveld said.
The busy, athletic 18-year-old had a 5K to run that weekend, and a lot of work to do, so he didn’t get to a doctor that week. First thing the following week, he obliged his mother—and the doctor sent him straight to a New York emergency room in a cab, Eveld said.
The diagnosis: Adult T-Cell Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia, or T-ALL. May had a baseball size tumor in his chest, pressing on his trachea; he had to have a catheter put in to remove fluid from around his heart, Eveld said.
Because it was a fast-growing cancer—the tumor itself had grown over the course of just a few weeks— the medical response was swift. He had his first chemotherapy treatment that Friday, Eveld said.
There’s no family history, they never saw this coming. “It was just a fluke,” she said.
His parents, Lutz residents, both took extended leaves of absence from work to go to New York to care for him, leaving them with no income.
Eveld, whose son Tommy is May’s longtime best friend, said May is like one of her own children.
“We just can’t sit here and watch this family drown,” she recalled telling her husband when she found out how long May's parents would have to go without any income.
The Eveld family decided to make “Stay Strong Sammy” bracelets to sell as a fundraiser. They also began coordinating events with local businesses to raise money.
So far, the response has been tremendous.
People filled The Red Elephant restaurant in Carrollwood recently to support Mays, buying all of the bracelets then giving them back to be resold, Eveld said.
At another fundraiser at in Lutz, supporters filled the place, owner Rod Gaudin said. At one time there were 100 people in the back, and they stuck around all night, he said.
“I’m just so happy people are stepping up, especially in this economy,” Eveld said. “There are some really great people out there.”
May—nicknamed Smay by Eveld’s husband, his former baseball coach— was on a baseball scholarship at the academy when he was diagnosed. He’s had to put everything on hold, and the treatments are painful. In addition to helping keep the family afloat financially, the Evelds are trying to keep his spirits up, too.
The country music fan has gotten a few goodies from some of his favorite artists, including a phone call from Brantley Gilbert.
He was having a bad day and the call from Gilbert just changed his whole demeanor, Eveld said.
“It’s a long road, and a long road ahead,” she said of May’s treatment and recovery. “We’re just trying to do special things so he can stay positive and he can just beat this.”
The bracelets were even designed to make May smile. One side reads “Bartle Doo Smay.”
It’s an inside joke, Eveld said. And May might tell you “bartle doo” in response to a question, but he might not tell you what it means, she laughed.
The next fundraiser for May’s family will be held from 5 to 9 p.m. on Sept. 2 at Beef O’Brady’s, 18421 U.S. 41 in Lutz. The event will feature live entertainment by One Knight Stand, raffles and Stay Strong Sammy bracelet sales. Ten percent of the restaurant’s proceeds will go to the May family, Eveld said.
"Stay Strong Sammy" racelets are available for a $3 donation during regular business hours at:
- Shorti’s Deli, 14453 N. Dale Mabry Highway
- The Red Elephant, 14391 N. Dale Mabry Highway
- Tate & Tilly, 14349 N. Dale Mabry Highway
You also can visit his Caring Bridge site to see a list of upcoming events and sign his guest book, Eveld said. Go to www.caringbridge.org, and type “sammymay” into the search box.
You also can make a donation to the Sammy May Fund at Wells Fargo Bank, account No. 5028567971.
To make an electronic transfer from any Wells Fargo or Bank of America account, use routing No. 026012881, along with the above account, Eveld said.
For more information, email Patrice@eveld.net.