Mother-Daughter Cancer Survivors Walk the Runway at Angel & Divas!
Angel Foundation enjoyed another fun fall night full of fashion at Angel & Divas on October 1 at A’BULAE in St. Paul. Nearly 200 attendees raised close to $40,000 to support Angel Foundation’s two programs: Facing Cancer Together and Emergency Financial Assistance. The night featured a shopping experience from local boutiques, a silent auction and a fun new Pay-for-a-Pop game! The real highlight of the night was our runway show which featured 30 cancer survivors as models, many of whom have benefitted from Angel Foundation’s programs. One of those models was Calley Gruenhagen, a 29-year-old cancer survivor of one year.
Calley and her mother, Ann, also a cancer survivor of 24 years, both strutted their stuff on the runway at Angel & Divas! This mother-daughter duo agreed that getting their hair and makeup done and walking down the catwalk was an exciting part of the night, but Calley says the community of cancer survivors was truly the highlight for her.
“It was nice to be around others, my friends haven’t gone through cancer, so I don’t get to be around other survivors.” Except her mom, she quickly added. Although Ann was also young when diagnosed with breast cancer at the age of 33, there have been many years in between their cancer journeys.
Ann’s cancer story began like so many other’s when she found a lump in her breast. However, she was first told by her doctor that it was her rib protruding, then when it was confirmed that it was not her rib, was told she was too young to have breast cancer. Ann persisted that something was wrong, and finally after a biopsy, she was diagnosed with breast cancer. Throughout her mastectomy and six months of chemo, Ann cared for her three young daughters and continued to work.
“All I wanted to do was get better,” Ann says of her treatment. Calley says that because of her mother’s diagnosis at such a young age, she was frequently asked if she wanted to be tested for the BRCA gene. She chose not to be tested, wanting to avoid the constant worry about when that proverbial bomb would go off.
But at the age of 27, Calley went to the dentist for a tooth infection. She was told she would need a root canal and was put on an antibiotic for the infection. Unfortunately, this triggered Clostridium difficile (C. diff) and meant more doctor’s appointments and a blood test which showed an elevated white blood cell count. This along with low blood flow to her toes indicated a cardiac problem and Calley was told to go the emergency room immediately. While at the hospital her white blood cell count was around 300,000, more than 30 times higher than a normal count. Calley was diagnosed with Acute Myeloid Leukemia (AML).
Calley immediately started chemotherapy, of which she would end up going through 3 rounds. After genetic testing, Calley was only given a 30% prognosis. A Bone Marrow Transplant would be the next step, and although there is only a 25% chance that a sibling will be a match, both of Calley’s sisters were tested. Calley received the phone call she had hoped for, her older sister, Amanda, was a perfect match.
During this time, Calley was not working, she had student loans and bills to pay. She learned about Angel Foundation from her social worker and applied for Emergency Financial Assistance. Calley was awarded a grant to help with groceries and fuel gift cards to travel back and forth to her appointments.
“Angel Foundation is fantastic,” Calley says. She has since signed up as a volunteer for Angel Foundation, she says, to help others like she was helped when she was going through cancer.
“People think I’m crazy when I say I’m thankful for getting cancer. I was really given a second chance at life. It pushed me to be the person I always wanted to be.”