Gracie Claborn, for whom Gracie’s Promise is named, is a vivacious eight-year-old in remission from leukemia. Her story of catastrophic illness began when she was 11 months old, living in Casper, Wyoming, with Mom Leslie Claborn, Dad Bobby Claborn, and older sister Teagan, 4 years old.
At that time in January of 2009, Bobby and Leslie noticed that their gorgeous baby with smashing blue eyes, was grasping at her head, sobbing. Of course, Gracie did not have language yet to tell them where she hurt or what kind of pain it was, so Leslie took her to the doctors and they suggested she might have allergies.
Not long after, Gracie started coughing– another trip to the doctors who said she was fine. “Two days later,” recalls Leslie, “she stopped breathing.
Casper, Wyoming, is a community in the center of the state with a population of about 55,000 people, and it has wonderful medical facilities. Leslie took Gracie back to the emergency room where Gracie stopped breathing again. The doctors began more intensive tests to determine the cause of Gracie’s coughing and breathing problems, and in their search discovered that she had a tumor that covered 90 % of her infant lungs.
Casper is 300 miles from Denver, Colorado. A Flight for Life plane and medical crew airlifted Gracie to Children’s Hospital in Denver. The doctors there attempted to remove the tumor surgically, but were unsuccessful. Through their tests, they discovered that they were dealing with not only a tumor, but also leukemia. Needless to say, her immediate family was devastated, as was her extended family.
Doctors immediately began chemotherapy to try to reduce the tumor and treat the leukemia. Gracie had her first birthday. Bobby and Leslie tried to drive back and forth from Casper to Denver for her treatments, but Bobby’s ability to work conflicted with his daughter’s needs, and the financial burden caused them to lose their Casper home and eventually Bobby’s job in the oil and gas industry.
Leslie’s parents, Helen and Dan Doherty of Greeley, Colorado, encourage the Claborns to move in with them in Greeley which is about 50 miles from Denver. It certainly was closer than Casper, but that 120 mile round trip drive remained costly, time-consuming, and gas-guzzling. And any emergency needs Gracie had added more trips to Denver than those which were scheduled.
In the next year, the family settled somewhat from the original excruciating and confusing first months of Gracie’s illness. At one point, everyone could celebrate the fact that the original lung tumor seems to have shrunk significantly. Then in the next week, her white count might be so low that infection sets in, and she was back in the hospital.
The standard for the family at that point was that they give Gracie oral chemotherapy medication every day. Once a month she would get chemotherapy intravenously at Children’s Hospital. Doctors believed she had another two years of chemotherapy ahead of her. When she took that monthly chemotherapy, she was also given steroids. Her mother Leslie wryly state: “You don’t know what it’s like until you have a 2-year-old on steroids!
Gracie didn't grown much physically in the first year of chemotherapy. But her intellect, her grasp of her situation, and her ability to speak her mind have become hallmarks of her personality. When she marched into the hospital for her chemotherapy, she would go directly to her section of the hospital. Some of her medications were given by oral syringe. She would go straight up to the nurse, holds up her hand, and used the syringe to give herself the medication. She then settled into a couch for her IV chemotherapy, and marched back out of the hospital when finished.
After two and a half years of treatments Gracie was declared in remission. Her family was able to move back to their beloved Casper, Wyoming where her dad Bob was able to go back to work doing what he loved.
For the 2015-2016 school year, Miss Gracie Claborn is a proud second grader and is doing all the things little eight-year-olds should be doing.
What became immediately apparent to the Board of Gracie’s Promise when watching these developments from the sidelines was Gracie’s innate “grace” in her circumstances. Yes, she was gravely ill. But yes, she was still an infant, becoming a toddler, and advancing in ways that her cancer could not kill. Gracie’s “promise”, we believe, is that she lives each day with abundant love, joy, and curiosity with God’s blessing and grace!
Those of us who volunteer to work for the organization of Gracie’s Promise use Gracie Claborn’s promise as our beacon, our light in the darkness of these terrible ordeals our families go through. We pray that our families can live each day with abundant love, joy, and curiosity, with God’s blessing and grace.
Although the Claborn family is no longer getting assistance from Gracie's Promise, as with any of the families no longer needing support, they will be closely monitored and if the need ever arises for them, Gracie's Promise is just one phone call and prayer away from help.