Handling Cancer With Grace
At 5 years old, Grace Bumstead already knows how to command a room; she’s spunky, fun and ambitious. So much so that people who meet her now might never guess that she is currently fighting a scary thing called cancer, and has already gone through months of intense treatment. The upside? She’s getting ready for her last day of chemotherapy.
Grace was diagnosed in January 2013 with a rare form of cancer: Ph+ acute lymphoblastic leukemia. To help her understand the progression and treatment of her cancer, Grace was given Ella, Mattel’s “Chemo Barbie” doll, by Alina San, a Child Life specialist at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles.
Ella and Grace (as well as her Disney Princess dolls, Ariel and Rapunzel) have attended many doctor appointments together to allow physicians to demonstrate on relatable Ella where a shot or bandage might go. The doll even came along to Grace’s hair appointment to help her visualize that she can be bald and beautiful, like Ella.
After a year and a half of intense chemotherapy with Ella by her side, Grace has less than four months of treatment left, which will mean more time spent at home and no longer needing Ella to explain procedures or hair loss. However, Ella continues to have a place in Grace’s inner circle of dolls, and gets to play “hospital” quite often.
“She gives her dolls shots, has them spend long nights in the hospital,” says Melissa Bumstead, Grace’s mother. “They often miss their families, and have to get X-rays and G-tubes.”
Grace’s parents, Melissa and Chad Bumstead, and Weili Sun, MD, PhD, her oncologist at CHLA, knew that Ella was essential in helping to explain a confusing disease, and now will continue to remind Grace of the struggle she overcame. Although Grace is very excited that her treatment is almost complete, she has more important things to think about—like starting school. After being in a hospital environment for so long, she recently braved her first day of kindergarten and proudly recalled the day as “magnificent!”
Another major development Grace is very excited about is her hair growth. “As parents, we are still telling her that it’s her smile that really makes her the most beautiful,” says Melissa. “But she does take a lot of pride in being big enough to comb her own hair and loves being able to use hair clips again. We’re looking forward to the milestone of being able to braid it.”
These are just small moments that are helping the Bumsteads find their new normal as Grace nears the end of her treatment. The family feels optimistic about the future, since CHLA and Sun, are in its corner. But Grace has always been optimistic about her future; that’s evident in the way she insisted on wearing a princess dress while in a hospital bed, and how she now takes charge on a playground pretending to be a superhero.
“Grace feels like she could conquer the world now. But she’s always been like that, even when she was in the worst of her battle with cancer,” explains Melissa. “She’s a girl on a mission to live life to the fullest these days, and I couldn’t be happier about it.”