A 10th birthday is a big milestone in any boy’s life, but festivities planned Sept. 20 for Grayson Craig will be especially memorable.
One year ago, on the eve of turning 9 years old, it wasn’t at all clear Grayson would still be here to mark birthday No. 10.
Two weeks before his 9th birthday, Grayson was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin lymphoma, a cancer of the blood and lymph nodes that kills a third of patients within five years.
His mother, Amy Craig, found a lump on her son’s right leg, and the Harold C. Johnson Elementary student celebrated his last birthday with a round of chemotherapy. He continued to receive a monthly treatment of four to six rounds of chemo for the rest of 2013.
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“Especially the third and fourth treatments were bad,” Amy said. “I call it a beast, because it was. It made him so sick. It was so hard on his body. The first few were easier, but those last two were when they had to do what they call ‘prevention’ to make sure the cancer did not come back.”
Now cancer-free for nine months, Grayson is back at his York school and playing outdoors with his brother and sisters again.
To mark the occasion, Amy Craig and her husband, Brian, a distribution manager in York, will hold a “celebration of life” Sept. 20, to raise awareness of the disease and raise money to help others through the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society.
Grayson’s parents didn’t know that they would have a chance to celebrate last year when he was laying in a hospital bed, losing his hair. They tried to find something to celebrate, something to keep their spirits up, during every hospital stay, because, Amy said, they didn’t know how many such moments together they had left.
“The nurses called us the party room,” Grayson said, his curly locks now fully restored. “We tie-dyed shirts and made white chocolate crackers and peanut butter crackers. One time, I woke up and the room was full of streamers and balloons.”
But there were plenty of frightening moments in those days too, especially when there were so many questions Amy Craig couldn’t answer for her son. The memory still brings tears to her eyes.
“He asked me, ‘Am I going to die?’ And that’s just something a parent shouldn’t have to answer from their child,” Amy said. “We worry about that, but they’re supposed to be innocent.”
As he got better though, his family marked every milestone in his recovery, from the return of his hair to the removal of a port from his chest and the first time he could ride a bike again – even if his old BMX bike had to be abandoned after sitting unused for so many months.
“Now I can’t ride it because it has spider webs all over it,” Grayson said.
Even when his treatment last fall put him out of school and restricted him to taking homebound courses, Grayson maintained high grades.
“I lost no brain cells,” he said.
The Craig family got through their ordeal partly by redirecting their concern outward toward others. Even during Grayson’s first trip to the hospital, Amy remembers, she and her son prayed for a small girl rushed ahead of them into the emergency room.
“The main way we celebrate life is to serve others,” she said. “Even then, we prayed for other people going through things, whether we thought it was better or worse than cancer.”
They want to benefit LLS in particular since Amy Craig credits their research with developing the aggressive treatment that, while unpleasant at the time, she believes saved her son’s life.