'Life Is Really Good,' Says Cancer Survivor, 12

Mar 2, 2012
Originally published on March 2, 2012 6:27 am

When Grant Coursey was a toddler, he was diagnosed with neuroblastoma, a cancer often found in young children. A tumor had wrapped itself around Grant's spinal cord and had grown so that it pushed against his lungs.

Now 12, Grant is cancer-free; he received his first "clean" scan 10 years ago in March 2002. He had to undergo several procedures to rid his body of the cancer.

Recently, Grant and his mother, Jennifer, sat down to talk about his young life and how cancer has affected it.

"So, Mom, when I was diagnosed with cancer, how old was I?" Grant asks.

"You were 16 months old," Jennifer says.

That diagnosis was made after Grant's doctor started looking into what seemed to be a case of asthma. A chest X-ray was scheduled to find the cause of Grant's wheezing. When the Courseys came in to have the X-ray images taken, Grant's grandfather, a doctor, walked over from his office to be with them.

"As a professional courtesy, the radiologist asked if we'd like to see the images right there and then," Jennifer says. "So, when they put the images up, things got real quiet in the room."

The X-rays showed a tumor the size of a grapefruit. As Jennifer remembers, Grant's grandfather looked at the images then gave his family a hug.

"And you know how Papa walks really straight?" Jennifer asks Grant, referring to his grandfather. "He kinda looked like somebody'd kicked him in the gut as he was walking back to his office, and that scared me."

The boy was quickly scheduled for a biopsy. Over the next 12 months, more surgeries followed.

"The first time they put you under anesthesia and they put the mask on your face, you really struggled," Jennifer says. "That's pretty awful for ..."

"A parent," Grant says.

"A parent and a kid," Jennifer says.

"But I remember as I got older I used to like it, actually," Grant says.

"Yeah. So, you being super into firefighters, I said, 'This is just like the firefighters, you know? They put the clean air on so they can go in there and save people.'"

"I practically put it on myself the minute I walked in there!" Grant says.

"You did! You loved it," Jennifer says. "So, what else do you remember?"

"I remember being scared, a lot," Grant says. "I remember waiting in the waiting room made me ... what's the word? Apprehensive, kind of. That was brutal, always."

After the biopsy, Grant underwent a 10-hour operation, as surgeons removed the bulk of the tumor from his chest. Eventually, he required one more surgery to remove the remnants of the tumor, which had begun to grow anew.

"I always kind of hoped that you didn't really remember much," Jennifer says, "but the scary stuff really stuck with you."

"Yeah. You know, I've got big scars all over my back from getting cut open," Grant says. "Whenever that kind of starts to twinge a little bit, like if I touch it wrong or something like that, it just kind of reminds me I'm lucky."

"Yeah," Jennifer says.

"You know, life is really good," Grant says. "And there's this saying that says if you've been close to death, you understand life more. And sometimes I think of that, and I think, you know, if this had never happened to me, I never would have understood how much life means, kinda. You know? What if I had died? I'd never have this amazing life."

"That's right," his mother says.

"That's crazy to think about," Grant says.

"It is crazy to think about," Jennifer says. "Well, Grant, I'm sure glad you got well."

"Yeah."

"I sure love you. And I hope you're picking up that I'm so proud of you," Jennifer says. "I'm so proud of you."

"I pick that up a lot, honestly," Grant says.

"Good."

Audio produced for Morning Edition by Michael Garofalo.

Copyright 2013 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

Time now for StoryCorps. Today, we'll hear from 12-year-old Grant Coursey. When he was a toddler, Grant was diagnosed with neuroblastoma, a cancer often found in young children. A tumor was wrapped around his spinal cord and was pushing against his lungs.

GRANT COURSEY: It took three surgeries, but Grant is now cancer-free. And he recently sat down to interview his mother, Jennifer, at StoryCorps.

COURSEY: So Mom, when I was diagnosed with cancer, how old was I?

JENNIFER COURSEY: You were 16 months old. And we actually thought you had asthma, 'cause you were wheezing. The doctor said, well, let's get a chest X-ray. And Papa came over 'cause Papa's a doctor and he - his office was just right across the way. And as a professional courtesy, the radiologist asked if we'd like to see the images right there and then. So when they put the images up, things got real quiet in the room.

And Papa gave us a hug. And you know how Papa walks really straight up and down?

COURSEY: Yeah.

COURSEY: He kind of looked like somebody had kicked him in the gut as he was walking back to his office, and that scared me.

COURSEY: Wow.

COURSEY: And the first time they put you under anesthesia and they put the mask on your face, you really struggled. That's pretty awful for...

COURSEY: A parent.

COURSEY: A parent - and a kid.

COURSEY: But I remember, as I got older I used to like it, actually.

COURSEY: Yeah, so you being super into firefighters, I said, this is just like the firefighters. You know, they put the clean air on so they can go in and save people.

COURSEY: I practically put it on myself...

COURSEY: You did.

COURSEY: ...the minute I walked in there.

COURSEY: You loved it. So what else do you remember?

COURSEY: I remember being scared, a lot. I remember waiting in the waiting room made me, what's the word, apprehensive, kind of. You know, that was brutal, always.

COURSEY: I always kind of hoped that you didn't really remember much, but the scary stuff really stuck with you.

COURSEY: Yeah. You know, I've got big scars all over my back from getting cut open. Whenever that kind of starts to twinge a little bit - like, if I touch it wrong or something like that - and it just kind of reminds me I'm lucky.

COURSEY: Yeah.

COURSEY: You know, life is really good. And there's this saying that says if you've been close to death, you understand life more. And sometimes I think of that, and I think, you know, if this had never happened to me, I never would have understood how much life means, kinda. You know, what if I had died? I'd never have this amazing life.

COURSEY: That's right.

COURSEY: And that's crazy to think about.

COURSEY: That is crazy to think about. Well, Grant, I'm sure glad you got well.

COURSEY: Yeah.

COURSEY: I sure love you. And I hope you're picking up that I'm so proud of you. I'm so proud of you.

COURSEY: I pick that up a lot, honestly.

COURSEY: Good.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

MONTAGNE: Jennifer Coursey with her 12-year-old son, Grant, at StoryCorps in Ukiah, California. Ten years ago this month, doctors declared Grant cancer-free. Their conversation will be archived, along with all StoryCorps recordings, at the Library of Congress. The podcast is at npr.org. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.