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‘Hope Restored’

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Sixteen-year-old Grace deBest said goodbye to cancer when she rang the symbolic golden bell that signaled the end of her treatment Spectrum Health Helen DeVo’s Children’s Hospital.

There was smiles everywhere than that Pediatric hematology and oncology team joined Grace and her family on the occasion.

the Children’s life Team created a personalized hand-painted banner that read “Our TikTok Pro is done with chemo”.

At the hospital, Grace often made creative TikTok videos to show others how to pass the time during long chemotherapy treatments.

Now Grace sees her care team only for occasional checks.

“When our brave, resilient patients like Grace reach this truly amazing milestone by ringing the bell after completing chemotherapy, it really is a celebration for all of us,” said James Fahner, MD, Head of Department for Hematology and Oncology at Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital.

Dr. Fahner stated that this is not just a celebration of a young person’s resilience and strength, but “a celebration of the family and friends who have helped them get through this sometimes overwhelming journey,” he said.

“Most importantly, it is a celebration of restored health, restored future, and restored hope. These young people are an inspiration. ”

The diagnosis

Doctors diagnosed Grace with T-cell acute lymphoblastic leukemia in 2019 after she was treated for swollen lymph nodes and mono-like symptoms. Grace recalled looking like a “soccer player in full gear” because of the swelling.

After just a few hours in the emergency room at Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital, her family heard words that would change their lives forever – your child has cancer.

“You’re not ready for this yet, and suddenly everything changes,” said Doug deBest, Grace’s father.

Grace’s mother, Kerri, and sister, Maddie, heard the diagnosis at the hospital that day.

“My first thought was … cancer … you did,” said Grace. “You can prevail.”

Grace remembers a lot of pain in the beginning from kidney tumors. She spent her first week in intensive care, putting sedation on and off. After treatments and several rounds of dialysis, she was transferred to an inpatient ward for a whole week with additional treatments.

“I took 20 pills a day,” she said. “I would line them up from largest to smallest every morning to keep track of things.”

Community support

Grace and her family, who live in the southwest Michigan village of Stevensville, appreciate how the local community has rallied in their need.

The Lakeshore High School principal, band directors, teachers, family, and friends all headed to Grand Rapids to check on her.

Grace is a member of her class council, the National Honors Society, the Environment Club, the Diversity Club, the Key Club and is the official photographer for the High School Band.

“It would be easier to make a list of groups Grace doesn’t belong to,” joked Doug.

Maddie helped put together a special video of her classmates in hopes of putting a smile on Grace’s face.

“We had more than 150 kids who said, ‘Hello Grace, we miss you!’” She recalls.

Grace received the video in the middle of chemotherapy in the hospital.

“I cried,” she said. “I still watch this video a lot to this day.”

Fundraising, 5Ks and other events soon followed.

“The community really gathered around our family and it meant so much to all of us,” Kerri said.

The way to cancer-free

Over the next two years, Grace traveled regularly for treatment and check-ups at Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital. She also had a list of home care to be administered remotely.

She developed neuropathy from chemotherapy that caused her to wake up in the middle of the night in such pain that she would scream.

“That was definitely the worst,” said Doug. “We tried to stretch, move, freeze, heat, and nothing could take the pain away.”

The family had many anxiety attacks and several worrying trips to the emergency room during their treatment.

“The staff at the hospital have been so great all along,” said Doug.

“We just love the doctors and nurses,” repeated Kerri. “They are all just amazing.”

The power of a positivity

Grace and her family sometimes struggled to maintain positive attitudes. Cracking a smile on some days was a real challenge.

“I remember saying, ‘If you can’t be happy, I can’t be happy, so find out!'” Grace recalled.

At one point, she told her mom to wear more color and try to be more optimistic.

“We were scared and didn’t know what to do,” said Kerri. “For us, however, it was a good reality check – and Grace held on to it.”

Grace’s love of photography also helped.

Attracted to photography since elementary school, she did photo shoots for her friends. This passion pursued her into her teenage years.

When she had to stay at home during the treatments, she had her photos with her. She spent hours looking at old photos she’d taken of friends and that kept her going.

At other times, Grace would scroll Instagram to keep up with her school friends and review old photos to relive those memories.

A second home

Grace calls Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital her second home.

She is now part of the Teen Council, a group that teaches child life best practices for other teenagers in the hospital. She and the Council are currently discussing new ideas that are so top secret that she cannot yet share them.

Grace said that special details like the Child Life program make the hospital so much better for the children who need to stay there.

“I am almost stunned that I am no longer coming for treatment,” she joked.

She plans to be on the Teen Council as she has follow-up appointments and wants to make sure every child is treated as well as she is.

“It was definitely my second home,” she said with a big smile.

Thank You For Reading!


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