Helping Families Cope with Childhood Cancer: Julie’s Story

Julie Gray is an Order Resolution Specialist for ePromos. Learn more about her journey as the mom of a cancer survivor and the ways we’re honoring Tanner’s Team Foundation this month via our ePromos for Good and #ePromos Cares programs.

Early Warnings

In March of 2013, Julie Gray’s son, Nate, started waking up in the middle of the night with stomachaches. For most parents of young children, this would be nothing out of the ordinary, but Julie was immediately on alert. “As a baby – really since the first week he was born – Nate slept through the night, so this was unusual,” she explains. In a matter of days, the Grays added a handful of new symptoms to the list: their five-year-old seemed exhausted, was barely eating and wasn’t acting like himself.

Thinking it was a virus, Julie and her husband, Tano tried OTC remedies and gave Nate’s symptoms time to pass, but nothing seemed to work. Instead, they wound up in the ER. After a follow-up phone call to Nate’s pediatrician, it was suggested he immediately be admitted to the hospital for additional tests.

The results of those tests sent the family to the oncology department of Children’s Hospital in Minneapolis, Minnesota, nearly two hours from where they live in St. Cloud. “We were so sleep deprived at that point and still expecting some sort of viral situation,” Julie recalls, “so it took me a minute to really process what the doctors were saying: There was a chance our five-year-old had cancer.”

Road to Recovery

After a biopsy, the Grays learned Nate had lymphoma. According to the American Childhood Cancer Organization, Hodgkin’s lymphoma accounts for approximately 6 percent of all childhood cancers, while non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma comprises an additional 5%. Nate’s oncologist, Dr. Sencer, described the family’s situation like this, “We’re down in this game by 27 points, but we didn’t know what game we were playing, and now we do. And we’re going to win.”

Nate’s medical team opted for a strictly chemotherapy-based protocol, with treatment administered between Children’s Hospital in Minneapolis and a satellite clinic in St. Cloud. Over the next several months, Nate endured more than 15 chemo treatments, a spinal tap, blood transfusions, a daily regimen of pills and installation of a port-a-cath, among other interventions.

An Outpouring of Support

“During this process of Nate’s illness and recovery,” Julie recounts, “we received a lot of help.” Support came in many forms, including a fundraiser benefit put on by ePromos, the Grays’ church, her husband’s job and a GoFundMe campaign, as well as from friends, neighbors and strangers across their entire community. One significant local organization that jumped in as a resource for the Grays was Tanner’s Team Foundation. The nonprofit was created in 2011 to provide financial assistance to families in Central Minnesota with children who have a life-threatening illness. The foundation honors Tanner Fuls, who passed away in 2010 from Myelodysplastic Syndrome at 11 years old.

“Because of how much we were traveling between St. Cloud and Children’s, there was a lot of wear and tear on our family van,” Julie says. “In response, Tanner’s Team supplied us with new tires.” Tanner’s father also attended the ePromos benefit, which took place at the Eagles Club in St. Cloud and raised funds with karaoke, a spaghetti dinner and a silent auction.

“In June of 2014, after Nate’s last dose of treatment, we found out everything came back clear,” Julie explains. “There were no levels of concern, and we only needed six-month follow-up appointments. Currently we’re at yearly blood checks.”

Nate is now 12 years old and thriving. He loves tabletop gaming, gaming on his PS4 and playing soccer (especially goalkeeper). “He has good grades and is sociable,” Julie shares, “which I think stems from his life-changing experience. He’s a born salesman – who genuinely wants to learn about people, what they do and how things work.”

Giving Back

In honor of Julie, Nate and the Gray family, as well as Tanner Fuls and all the families in Minnesota with children who have faced or are facing life-threatening illnesses, we created a month-long fundraiser to support Tanner’s Team Foundation. This #ePromosCares campaign launched November 1, 2019, as local and national efforts ramped up for #GivingTuesday. It ran for one month, and we raised over $5,000 – doubling our goal. In addition, we also provided $500 worth of promotional products for the foundation’s upcoming 10th Anniversary Walk/Run event next summer through our ePromos for Good initiative.

Julie shares, “These events are not something I would have been able to be a part of when our family was going through treatment – it was too raw and too new. To be able to go back now and help families who are just starting this process means a lot.”

You can view our Tanner’s Team Foundation campaign here, or learn more about ePromos for Good here.

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