She is just a little girl, a first-grader now, and she should not have to question whether anyone will marry her.
Sometimes, she turns a corner too tight. Without a right eye, she has borne a bump or two. Or more.
“She’s always had a goose egg on her head,” says Grace’s mother, Molly Schmid, 34.
Once, Grace threw her hazel-brown prosthetic eye at a supermarket cashier. It is carved from coral by a man in Saginaw. Another time, she dropped the orb down a drain. Yet another, it became a snack—she had chewed it with a mouthful of corn chips.
For Halloween, Grace also had the eye of a tiger, evidenced by the striped face painting she chose for the cancer-fighting fundraiser Relay for Life.
She’s 7 years old now.
And her first name fits, her mother says, because she’s a rare child in more than one way.
At a tender 4 months, she had been diagnosed at Spectrum Health Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital with retinoblastoma, afflicting perhaps one in 20,000 children. Her retina had a hole. It rendered the eye blind.
Retinoblastoma is a type of eye cancer that usually develops in early childhood, typically before age 5. The cancer develops in the light-sensitive tissue at the back of the eye that detects light and color.
Her mother and father, Molly and Steve, took Grace to a specialist at 11 months old.
They had two days to decide: Remove the right eye, thwarting possible brain cancer, or begin chemotherapy.
Even now, as Molly reflects, the tears flow, pouring from the same hazel-colored eyes she gifted to Grace.
The deadline had been set on a Thursday. Urgency was critical, they told her.
By the following Monday, doctors removed the blind eye.
“It wrecks your world. It puts everything on hold,” Molly said, recalling those dark moments following Grace’s diagnosis. A very close followup schedule, including MRIs, ensured the cancer had not spread.
Molly is one of about 300 employees in Spectrum Health’s Human Resources department. She specializes in onboarding new employees as part of the employee lifecycle team, assisting in job orientation and helping them navigate a new workplace. She started 11 months ago.
Each Monday, she welcomes perhaps 100 new employees. She helps them begin the acclimation process as they join 25,000 employees throughout Spectrum Health.
“I knew I was in the right place,” Molly said. “I was pregnant when I applied for the job and I was given the ability to finish my maternity leave before I started.”
It would be the couple’s fourth child. Grace is their second child.
Molly now works at the Spectrum Health offices at Bridgewater Place, in downtown Grand Rapids. She dreams about her daughter most nights, when she sleeps.
“What keeps me up is that she’ll be teased,” she said.
Grace has even said, “I’ll never be married.”
Grace’s ailment stems from a mutated gene. She has a 50 percent chance of passing it on to her own children. That’s a conversation for another day.
She also has a 40 percent greater chance of secondary childhood cancers.
As of Sept. 27, 2016, Grace has been cancer-free for six years, and considered cured for the past year.
At the beginning of the school year, Molly talked to Grace’s class at Sparta’s Ridgeview Elementary. It helps to explain the otherwise unexplainable to young classmates, she said.
And this is life, Molly says. Perspective is key. This is her mantra. There are harsher paths.
“Take a walk through the children’s hospital,” she says.
Indeed, Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital is full of children just like little Grace. They’ve seen adult-size struggles, and they handle it all with … grace.