Grace Crowell was 9 years old and in third grade at Brookview Elementary when she just couldn’t shake a sickness. Her mom, Jeanet, had taken her to the doctor five times in one month for various illnesses: strep throat, a cold virus, pink eye. Grace didn’t seem to be getting any better so her mom took her back to the pediatrician. Jeanet remembers asking for a blood test to rule anything else out.
That test showed Grace was anemic, and her pediatrician wanted to send her downtown to Blank Children’s Hospital to get some blood. When they arrived, another doctor came into the room and delivered the news. Grace had leukemia. Leukemia. Cancer. Cancer of the blood. It was March 1, 2017, and the beginning of a very difficult and emotional journey that continues today.
The “Redo” Baby
Grace had been a typical 9-year-old. She was active and enjoyed dance, tumbling, gymnastics, and softball. Jeanet said she loved people, a true social butterfly. Grace is the baby of the family. Her two older brothers are 25 and 21. Jeanet said she was stunned to learn she and husband Scott were pregnant again and call Grace their “redo” baby. The news that her little Gracie, her “redo” blessing, was sick, was a big blow. “When you have the threat to take away your little baby, oh my gosh, it’s not going to happen,” she said.
March 1, 2017 was just the beginning of a tough 808 days of treatment. The first six months were intense: weekly chemotherapy infusions and monthly spinal taps. She lost her hair several times. She battled c.diff, a bacterial gut infection. She broke multiple bones, a side effect of her treatment. She was put on steroids, which altered her personality and demeanor. She tried to go to school when she could, but didn’t feel good a lot of the time. Jeanet says it was tough on the entire family but they tried their best to stay positive. “It was tough on her, a lot of isolation, a lot of why is this happening. But there’s really no time to dwell on it, we just focused on getting her better and getting her happy,” Jeanet remembered.
A Queen For a Day
It was during this intense period of treatment that the World Famous Harlem Wizards visited Waukee for the first time. One of Grace’s teachers, Jamie Seiler, nominated Grace to have a special experience during the game. She sat courtside, chatted with the players, and got to go out on the court with them. “She got a fun experience, she got to be with them and they treated her like a little queen for a day. And for what she’s been through, yeah, you can be a queen for a day!” Jeanet said. “I’m one of those people, we don’t like special attention, we don’t like to be put out there, but yet through this experience, I’ve learned the more awareness we create, the better it is for everybody.”
Grace made a special connection with one of the Harlem Wizards, Arthur Lewis, aka “King Arthur.” His visit to Waukee coincided with his own daughter’s battle with cancer. Kayla was diagnosed in November 2016 with a rare, soft-tissue cancer. As the father of a child battling a life-threatening illness, Arthur recognized the importance of a support system and the power a few kind words can have. Jeanet said to this day, Arthur sends messages to Grace: offering encouragement, prayers, and support. He posts on Facebook the importance of research when it comes to childhood cancers, and how important it is to have others along with you on what can be an isolating journey. “She(Kayla) was blessed with a great support system which shows you the importance of having good loving positive faithful people on your team. It takes a village to make it,” he wrote.
Today, following 808 days of treatment, Grace is officially in remission and cancer-free. Kayla is too, and Grace is looking forward to celebrating when she sees her friend, King Arthur, at the Harlem Wizards game on October 14. She’s now 11 and in sixth grade at South Middle School. She still has frequent doctors’ visits as part of her follow-up care: antibiotic infusions, blood draws, etc. But, Grace says while the journey has been hard, it hasn’t been all bad. “At first when I was diagnosed, I didn’t know what was going to happen. I was scared. Usually, when you hear about cancer, you hear about the bad things and people die. Since going through this, I’ve been able to see all the good things too. Like all the people going into remission and getting cured like me!”
Join Grace at the Harlem Wizards game by getting your tickets HERE: http://waukeeschoolsfoundation.org/event/harlem-wizards-2/
Watch part of Grace Crowell’s inspiring speech to teachers at Brookview Elementary about her battle with cancer: