When Grace developed bruises on her legs that wouldn’t fade for weeks and began to get sick frequently, her parents, Nicola and Bruce, became concerned and took her to their family doctor, who immediately ordered blood tests.
The results showed that Grace had a very low red blood cell count, which meant she didn’t have enough healthy red blood cells to carry oxygen to her body’s organs. To confirm the results, her doctor repeated the blood tests.
The next day, Bruce received a call from the IWK explaining that they needed to immediately bring Grace to the IWK’s emergency department because the blood test results were concerning.
Grace, who was enjoying a swim at a local pool before her evening birthday celebration with friends, was unaware her life was about to change drastically.
“I cried in the car all the way to the IWK because I was so confused and really scared,” shares Grace.
When Grace and her parents arrived at the IWK, she was hooked up to an intravenous (IV) tube for fluids and had an x-ray and more blood tests. She also had a bone marrow biopsy, a procedure to remove marrow (soft, spongy tissue) from inside the bone.
Sadly, the news no one ever wants to receive came on Grace’s 10th birthday. She had a rare type of blood cancer called acute promyelocytic leukemia (APL), a subtype of acute myeloid leukemia (AML). APL can develop quickly and needs to be treated right away.
For eight months, Grace underwent chemotherapy treatments at the IWK for several hours a day for five days a week. She also took daily medications to help ease the side effects of her treatments, which made her feel fatigued and exhausted most of the time.
Grace, now 17, has been cancer free for more than seven years; however, she is still followed closely by the IWK’s Heart Centre to monitor her heart health due to the powerful chemotherapy treatments she received. She also has bloodwork done regularly. Grace is in her final year of high school and will study nursing after she graduates.
“Some of my biggest role models are the people who took care of me—my doctors, my nurses, my psychologist,” says Grace. “I looked up to them in the hospital because they were confident but also kind and understanding. And I just thought to myself that if I can be that person for even one patient, then I’ll be so satisfied in my life.”