Meet Grace DeGroff
"I may not have many memories of being in the hospital, but I do deserve the title 'cancer survivor' because of how I live out my life to honor the little girl that fought ALL."
I was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia when I was 16 months old and I finished treatment just before my 4th birthday. During my treatment, I underwent three surgeries, 20+ spinal taps and approximately ten different kinds of chemotherapy. Despite undergoing 3 1/2 years of treatment, I only have two memories of my cancer experience. I forgot so much of this time that when I was 6 years old, my mom had to tell me I was a cancer survivor. I was shocked when she showed me my old port, and I felt alienated because not every little girl had a port scar on her chest or picc-line scars on her arm and neck.
Because of my inability to recall most of my cancer experience, some adults have written off my survivorship as a whole. Whenever I share my identity, adults immediately change their facial expression and want to hear everything about my experience. However, when I reveal that I only have two memories, the normal response is, “Thank God you don’t remember any of that, it’s almost like you’ve never had cancer!” Adults trying to absolve me of my cancer experience has made me doubt my identity as a survivor.
Contrary to not remembering most of my experience in the hospital, I have an extreme connection with the cancer community. My parents have raised me to honor the little girl inside of me that fought ALL, but they have also taught me that being a survivor means more than just living past cancer. Because of this, my family and I created a fundraiser called “Race for Grace,” where we hosted a 5K, created t-shirts, and donated over $100,000 to the Leukemia Research Foundation over the course of five years. A few years later, I entered Trinity High School and immediately was drawn to the school club Blazers Against Cancer. As a freshman and sophomore, I was a member of the club: I attended club sponsored games, made baked goods for bake sales, and even donated my hair sophomore year!
As a junior, I was elected to be a club officer for Blazers Against Cancer. During my junior and senior years, I have organized basketball and volleyball games for cancer awareness, coordinated two hair donation events, and created a ribbon tree ceremony for our school community to participate in. During my tenure as a club officer, I have introduced the concept of ribbons to honor those impacted by cancer. My school is a Catholic, all girls school, so we have a strict uniform policy; however, we are allowed to decorate our skirts with ribbons and pins.
With this in mind, my club has handed out over 1000 ribbons to every girl in our community and their family members. We have made ribbons honoring every kind of cancer, and seeing almost every girl in school wear a ribbon on their skirt brings me an irreplaceable happiness.
I still struggle with the word “survivor” on a daily basis. I am grateful I survived, but I do sometimes doubt if l deserve the label “survivor” because of my lack of memory. Instead of viewing my cancer as a singular event that stopped as soon as I finished treatment, I view it as an ongoing experience that I live with daily. Cancer does not define me, but it has driven me to who I am today and it has formed my ideas as to what I want to pursue in a career. When I am older, I would like to work for a company dedicated to helping kids with cancer and other diseases. I truly believe I was meant to not only share my cancer story with others, but to make something positive of my experience to help others. I may not have many memories of being in the hospital, but I do deserve the title “cancer survivor” because of how I live out my life to honor the little girl that fought ALL.