On this day honoring the patron saint of young people and love– St. Valentine — I wanted to take some time to discuss two very special people: my cousin, Mary, and her late boyfriend, Grant Hebert. They were only 17 and 19 when they met, and sadly Grant passed away less than a year later when he was 20. I only met Grant once on Easter Sunday 2009, but his presence made an impact on our whole family. Though I didn’t know him well, he was extremely nice and polite, and he made Mary very happy. Not long after they started dating, we heard through the family grapevine that Grant had a relapse of cancer. I knew he had some form of leukemia, but not much else. I started following a Caring Bridge blog written by Grant’s mother, Missy, about his journey. Missy recently explained to me that Grant had been diagnosed with Acute Lymphocytic Leukemia when he was 14. After enduring 2 and a half years of chemotherapy, he achieved remission and went on to graduate from high school in 2007. Shortly after he met Mary, he relapsed in 2009.
Although I had been an occasional blood donor in the past, it was from reading about Grant’s experience that made me really passionate about blood, platelet and bone marrow donation. Grant needed regular blood and platelet donations due to his leukemia, and there was sometimes difficulty finding appropriate donors that were A+ and CMV- like him. CMV is short for cytomegalovirus, a virus that almost everyone has antibodies for by the time they are an adult. However, some people — like Grant and myself — do not. I was never able to donate directly to Grant because I was living in Illinois at the time of his illness, but I made a point to donate regularly so others in his position would have better access to blood. He continues to be an inspiration to me today, and his family and Mary were very supportive when I asked if he could be an honored angel for my Team-In-Training fundraiser to benefit the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society.
Mary was also very generous and agreed to answer a few questions about her experience as the significant other of a cancer fighter:
When/how did you meet Grant?
I met Grant in December of 2008. It was a Sunday afternoon and I was working at Fairview Cinema at the time. He came to the four o’clock show to see Yes Man. Now I had seen Grant a few times while working at the cinema and always thought he was really cute. I had no idea who he was, but one of the girls I worked with did. She told his name was Grant and he was a great guy. I was curious and when I got home from work I found him on Myspace, sent him a friend request. He accepted and we started talking.
When/how did he tell you he had cancer?
He first told me he had had cancer when we were talking, before we started dating. If I remember correctly, he told me he first had cancer in high school but he was in remission and had been for almost 5 years. In 2009, He went for a check up and counts were low, so they wanted to do a spinal tap. He called me that afternoon to tell me that he relapsed, but that he would be ok. He also made sure to let me know that I was going to be able to go see him.
What was your reaction?
I’ve thought about this question for a while, because I didn’t know how to answer this. My answer may sound strange but it’s true.
When he told me he had relapsed I didn’t freak out or cry. I just let it sink in, I guess you could say. Honestly, with Grant I believe it was love at first sight. What some people don’t know is Grant tried to get rid of me shortly after he relapsed. He asked me to be his girlfriend on January 14, 2009 the same day he told me the news. Maybe a couple of weeks later, he sent me a text telling me that he understood if I left. That he would understand if I didn’t want to be with him because he had cancer. I basically told him to shut up and I promised him I wasn’t going anywhere. That I was going to be there till the end. What can I say, I loved him.
How did Grant handle the news?
I really can’t answer this one because I don’t know. I can about imagine that he was upset, but he wasn’t going to let it get the best of him. He was going to live life to the fullest, and in my opinion he did.
What advice do you have for the significant others of cancer patients?
First off, if you are a boyfriend or girlfriend of a cancer patient, don’t run. It is indeed scary seeing the one you love go through everything that comes with cancer, but it will also hurt your loved one more if you left. Also be the best support you can. Spend as much time as you can with them, make lots of memories. You never know if or when your last day with them might be.
What do people need to know about cancer? (From Laura: Coincidentally someone also gave me a plaque with this poem during my cancer treatment and I found it very helpful as well.)
Cancer and do so many things, but cancer cannot destroy love.
A cancer mom on Caring Bridge posted this on her page. I have loved it ever since I first read it.
the Author is unknown.
Cancer is so limited…
It cannot cripple love.
It cannot shatter hope.
It cannot corrode faith.
It cannot eat away peace.
It cannot destroy confidence.
It cannot kill friendship.
It cannot shut out memories.
It cannot silence courage.
It cannot reduce eternal life.
It cannot quench the Spirit.
What would you like Grant to be remembered for?
I think It’s not what I want him to be remembered for, but what he will be remembered for. The picture below says it all. Yes, Grant has no color and it’s not the best picture of him. One week before this picture was taken, Grant had just been discharged from the hospital after having pneumonia. The day of my graduation he had to go back to the hospital for a spinal tap. His Grammy told me that he told the doctors he had to be gone by a certain time because his girlfriend graduated tonight. He made it to my graduation party, which was good enough for me. I could tell he still wasn’t feeling 100%. But when my dad asked him, “How you feeling Grant?” Grants answer was, “I’m feeling great.”
Grant never complained about how he felt. He always had the infectious smile on his face. I could have had the worst day and just seeing Grant made my day so much better. In the 9 months Grant and I were together I never ever saw him cry. The only time I saw him cry was the last time I saw him awake when he was in ICU. I was leaving the hospital for the night and went back to see him one more time. I held his hand and he mouthed I love you. I told him I love him too. That was the first time I saw him cry. I think Grant knew that was the last time we would see each other while he was awake.
I will say this, I get asked by people who hear about Grant if I ever regret dating him. I don’t regret any minute of it. I learned so much from this amazing man, I truly believe Grant helped make me the person I am today. People also ask me how did I do it? How did I stand by his side knowing he could possibly die? When you love someone so much, none of that matters. The cancer didn’t scare me, being without Grant scared me.
“The Dance” by Garth Brooks explains how I feel now.
“I’m glad I didn’t know the way it all would end, the way it all would go.
Our lives are better left to chance, I could have missed the pain but I’d have to miss the dance.”
Yes, I miss him everyday, I think about him everyday, but I regret none of it. I loved Grant then and I will love him forever. I’ll just be happy the way Grant would want me to be. I lost him, but I gained an amazing second family.