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.
Grace Waller, at right, and Bronte Stewart teamed
up to form the non-profit Amazing Grace Organization to provide
comfort for young people battling cancer. (Provided photo)
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 womens 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.