Patricia McMorrow | 09.20.17
Holding onto her sense of humor has helped heal 14-year-old Grace Bunke of Marietta, GA, through the bone cancer that has taken her hair, some of her hearing, and part of her left leg.
Grace’s hair grew back, her hearing aids work just fine, and she remains focused on living life to the fullest extent possible, in the manner she chooses, for as long as she possibly can.
Sometimes that includes having a bit of fun with people who don’t know about rotationplasty, a type of partial amputation.
To those who do a double-take upon seeing Grace’s ankle joint as her knee joint—rotated and reattached—she might say, dramatically, “My Mom did this to me because I didn’t eat my vegetables.”
While humor has been healing for the whole Bunke family, what they are going through could never be described as funny.
Grace’s cancer, diagnosed as malignant osteosarcoma in 2014, has been persistent through chemotherapy, a series of lung surgeries, her amputation, an immunotherapy clinical trial, and now radiation to her spine.
But the ninth-grader’s family has been just as persistent in finding ways to live peacefully within unpeaceful news.
Her mom, Vicki, a school psychologist, wrote on Grace’s CaringBridge Journal, “We want to provide Grace and her sister, Caroline, with a road map to the space that rests directly between hope for what might be, and acceptance of what is.”
And while she dearly wishes her PhD in educational psychology and clinical experience with pediatric oncology had never come into play in her own home, it has enabled Vicki to name something she sees in her girls: post-traumatic growth syndrome.
“My husband and I wanted for our children to not just bounce back from this experience … but how do we use what we have been through to bounce forward?” Vicki asks.
For Grace, a considerable amount of bouncing forward has taken place in water.
“Before my illness, I was a runner,” she said. “After my treatment, I wasn’t strong enough to get back into running right away, so my Mom was like, ‘You should try swimming.’”
Grace got really good, really fast. Her training had been focused on the 2020 Paralympic Games in Tokyo. Her strength and discipline are such that she swam through back pain diagnosed in July 2017 as tumor growth on her spine.
The goal of Grace’s cancer treatment now is not curative. But as long as her health holds, which everyone prays will be a long time, she will swim. And laugh. And heal.