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Washington teen talks ‘cancer up close’ and beating the odds

You see the commercials and know about the walks, but until it hits home, no one truly understands cancer up close.

Everyday, thousands of young cancer patients are cared for by St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital,
part of the reason you helped raise a record 10.3 million dollars in the 25 News annual Summer Telethon, but it doesn’t require a telethon to make a difference and the Jenkins family, is proof.

At age 7, before she had any idea what Cancer was, Grace Jenkins’ life was turned upside down. She was diagnosed with AML or Acute Myeloid Leukemia.

In a sit-down with Lauren Melendez she smiled admitted she didn’t really understand it at the time, but she just knew something was wrong “when I’d see my mom cry.”

But if you compared photos of young Grace- fragile, connected to tubes, and surrounded by medical tools, you may not believe she’s the same girl who blossomed into a bubbly, outspoken 15-year-old.

“I’m on the speech team at my high school and I’m on the swim team.” she beamed.

Grace credits a great part of her triumph, to St. Jude, where she says she got to forget she was sick. ‘They have everything there for you. The walls are all painted. They bring you food and games for you to play.”

For a majority of her 2nd grade year, Grace was in the hospital, but as she tells it, and from the videos of her laughing and dancing, you’d never believe she was battling such an aggressive disease.

AML causes abnormal cells to grow rapidly, while building in the bone marrow and blood. To say it was a terrifying experience for her family to watch, would be an understatement.

“We had four healthy kids for seven year… and then…we didn’t.” said Catherine Jenkins, Grace’s mother. As she stood in her family’s kitchen, a room filled with refrigerator pictures, love and coziness, Jenkins recalled a time when things were not so comfortable.

The diagnosis shocked the entire family, whose lives changed forever..

“I remember feeling so lost, because I’d never prayed before. I didn’t know how to pray.” Those were words Jenkins shared with 25 News five years ago, when she first shared her story with the world.

Fast forward, and Grace’s mother shares tears, but this time, for a very different reason.

Wiping them away from her eyes and smiling Jenkins added “every milestone that you thought she’d never reach.. is a gift.”

Catherine Jenkins offered a bittersweet laugh, also laden with tears, pointing out that in a few months Grace will be driving, then off to college, “…something I never thought would happen.” she shared.

However because of generous donations from folks across the country, all of Grace’s treatments were free and she beat the odds. Jenkins thanks St. Jude and her Washington community, whom she calls family, for helping her family pick up the pieces.

Now the Jenkins are not only moving forward; they’re paying it forward too.

Never lose hope, because there is always a chance of survival. I definitely wanna work at St. Jude because I wanna pay back and give back all that they’ve done for me and my family.”  Grace confidently announced her plans to make her transition from patient to doctor, full circle.

The family now operates a community garden where they offer fresh produce and proceeds benefit the hospital. If interested, you can visit her Facebook page St. Jude Giving Garden.

They of course, also support the annual telethon by manning phones and volunteering each year.

But the support is year round. 25 News along with St. Jude will be hosting a Dream Home Sell-A-Thon Tuesday and Wednesday January 22nd and 23rd. The community is invited to bid on a 3-bedroom, 2–bathroom, 2,300 sq. ft home for $100. Support benefits children’s cancer research. Details here.

 

 

Lauren Melendez

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