For many, the start of a new year conjures feelings of inspiration and excitement for the future. The start of 2019, however, delivered something of the opposite for a Door County family: a cancer diagnosis.
“It was like getting punched in the gut,” said Kevin, recalling the day he and his wife, Tracy, learned their 16-year-old son, Griffin, was battling acute myeloid leukemia (AML). “It was one of the toughest days of our lives.”
Their fear turned to faith and hope as they sought care from the Prevea pediatric oncology experts at HSHS St. Vincent Children’s Hospital in Green Bay.
“When we started this journey, we actually had no idea there was a children’s hospital in Green Bay,” said Kevin. “So, we were a little bit surprised, but very grateful because driving from Door County to Milwaukee for treatment would have been a much larger challenge. It would have been exponentially more difficult to manage our family and time.”
Griffin’s care team and the staff at HSHS St. Vincent Children’s Hospital became more like family as his treatment plan required him to stay at the hospital for weeks at a time.
“We loved our nurses, we loved our doctors – and even those who came to clean our room each day, or those we met in the cafeteria,” said Tracy.
“They kept all of us in mind – not just Griffin – but our entire family, who was also affected by this,” said Kevin.
Griffin, a rising student-athlete in his hometown, became sidelined by cancer but committed to staying strong throughout treatment.
“I thought, ‘I’m going to get through this, and this is not what is going to take me down,’” he said.
Determined to make the most of his time during hospital stays, Griffin signed up for the Walking for Health program led by the Child Life Department at HSHS St. Vincent Children’s Hospital. Patients who are able are encouraged to walk laps within the pediatric unit hallways, and are rewarded with special beads for each milestone achieved.
“We encourage patients who are able to get up and stay active during their hospital stay as it can really help with their healing and recovery,” said Amy Hagel, Child Life Specialist. “Griffin is a wonderful example of this.”
Griffin made up his mind he would do more than just walk laps. He would jog at times, too, for average of 3 to 4 miles each day. By the end of his 5-month treatment course, he covered a distance of 9 full marathons. He did all of this in addition to stretching and completing workouts in his hospital room.
“I just kept thinking about where I wanted to be when I got done with treatment, and how in shape I wanted to be – and that kept me going,” recalled Griffin, who had the full support of his doctors and family on his efforts to stay in shape.
Griffin is now finished with chemotherapy, but will continue to be monitored by his pediatric hematology-oncology care team at HSHS St. Vincent Children’s Hospital – all of whom continue to be in awe of Griffin’s grit and determination throughout his cancer journey.
“Griffin has always been a go-getter, a very goal-oriented person,” said Kevin. “That’s something as a parent you can be very proud of.”