In 2008, Grace Waller was 15, a competitive swimmer attending DeKalb High School. She began noticing something was wrong with one leg and felt a tumor behind her knee.
Doctors confirmed she had a cancer called osteocarcinoma.
Her life was in danger and her teen years would change drastically. Rush Medical Center in Chicago became her home off-and-on for the next year as she went through 25 rounds of radiation, interrupted only by major reconstructive surgery to replace her knee and part of the femur.
After being part of an experimental treatment, the tumor was declared 80 percent gone.
But her immune system was compromised so badly she could not attend school the next year and was mostly confined to home. During that year, tutors came to the house to help with her studies so she was able to graduate with her class.
Afterward she resumed swimming and even received an athletic scholarship to attend Oakland College in Rochester, Michigan.
She now has graduated with a degree in communications. Bronte Stewart was her roommate all four years and they became close friends, and together founded an organization to help other young people with cancer. It is appropriately named “Amazing Grace” and became a 501(c)(3) nonprofit in October 2015.
Their mission is to provide personalized care packages, designed to offer comfort and entertainment to enhance the quality of young cancer patients’ lives.
You can see on their website www.amazinggracenfp.org what they purchase and give to others.
Grace said when they can afford it they even provide laptops to those who request them.
During the many months of treatments Grace was able to keep a positive outlook about survival and recovery because of friends from around DeKalb sending her packages, as well as her parents’ total commitment to staying at her bedside.
“I filled an envelope with names of friends and other young patients, so when I felt really down I would pull a name from that envelope and do something for that person, sending a simple picture I had colored, a handmade bracelet or a personal note. It kept me going,” she said.
She has found a career path in journalism as a member of the Northern Illinois University Athletic Department media staff, covering wrestling and women’s golf. This involves preparing news releases and utilizing social media.
Being familiar with the digital world, she and her former roommate, who stayed in Michigan, regularly keep in touch via Skype and FaceTime.
Their eventual goal in 10 years is to make Amazing Grace a full-time endeavor. They already have reached out to help youth in several states and even one girl in Poland who is undergoing treatment for cancer.
Their fundraising ramped up this past year when they held an event in Michigan that raised $10,000.
Then a fundraiser spearheaded by her former coach, now at Hinsdale Central, added another $2,000 to their bank account. Grace emphasized that every dollar is used to purchase items for the care package – no salaries or overhead in this startup.
And the best news of all I found: She has been cancer-free for six years now. Amen to that.