With 25 trophies to her name, it’s obvious that Grace Chen, 12, has a knack for golf. It’s been that way since she was 6 and in recovery after years of treatment for acute lymphocytic leukemia (ALL) at the Bass Center for Cancer and Childhood Blood Diseases at Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital.
“My wife and I wanted something to help her physically and mentally,” said Grace’s father, Weixing Chen. “We figured golf — with open, fresh air and beautiful settings — would be right for her, and she could do it at her own pace and get good exercise.”
Golf quickly became more than just exercise. At age 7 Grace won five medals in a national competition. She recently finished No. 1 at the Junior Golf Association of Northern California’s biggest annual tournament.
Grace is now readying for her 5th annual trip to the U.S. Kids Golf World Championship at Pinehurst, N.C. Pediatric oncologist professor of pediatric hematology/oncology at the Stanford University School of Medicine Gary Dahl, MD, is not surprised.
“Grace represents a very important trend in leukemia treatments,” Dahl said, noting that Stanford Medicine is a member of the Children’s Oncology Group, the world’s largest organization devoted exclusively to childhood and adolescent cancer research. “In the early 1960s, before chemotherapy was used, only about 3 percent of patients like Grace were long-term survivors. But in the late ’60s and ’70s, we made major inroads in treatment. ALL now has a cure rate of around 90 percent.”
Leukemia, a cancer of the blood that starts in the bone marrow and spreads to the bloodstream, is the most common childhood cancer. At age 2, Grace had the classic symptoms: severe joint pain, fever, anemia and more. Living in China temporarily, Grace was flown to the Bay Area and came straight to Packard Children’s for treatment.
“I remember the therapy,” said Grace, “including the shots and the ice cream afterward. Dr. Dahl was always so calm and collected, and that helped me a lot. I’m just really thankful to now be healthy.”
Though few girls her age can blast a golf ball 230 yards, Grace celebrates her recovery and the ability to have a normal life. “It’s a relief that I can do what other kids do.”
- Robert Dicks
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