ALBANY — In January 2006, Grace Walburn, then 5, was told that her blood was sick.
She was too young to understand what leukemia was but knew that her family was worried about her.
“I was sad and scared,” she said. “I got a lot of hugs.”
Grace underwent chemotherapy and entered remission a year and a half after her diagnosis.
But only 18 months later, in early 2009, cancer returned to the family: Grace's mom, Heather Walburn — a manager at a Perfect Look salon in Salem — was diagnosed with breast cancer.
After chemotherapy, a lumpectomy and breast reduction surgery, she too entered remission.
Grace and Heather first took part in the Relay for Life cancer awareness walk in Albany in 2007. And even though they moved to Molalla in November 2009, they'll be back again for this year's event, set for June 17-18 at the West Albany High School track.
Grace does karaoke, and both walk with their team, “The Party Crashers.” And mother and daughter both stress the importance of the relay.
“Even if you can't donate, come out and watch,” Heather said. “It's a great event.”
Kim Dammon, chair of the Relay for Life in Albany, said the event is the signature fundraiser for the American Cancer Society.
“One of the reasons this relay is so important is so that people can come together for a common passion,” she said.
The relay allows survivors, cancer patients and caregivers to realize they are not alone, she said.
Through both their battles, Grace and Heather had support from each other, their family — including Heather's son, James, 20, and her fiance, Jeff Jones — and the community.
After Grace was diagnosed with leukemia, her mom was spending roughly $500 a month on medications and copays.
“We went without normal food and toilet paper because I was afraid that I wasn't going to be able to pay for her medical needs,” Heather said.
KRKT heard about Grace's condition and told Heather about the St. Jude Children's Research Hospital in Memphis, which provides financial assistance for families with children battling leukemia. Heather went online and filled out the application. Two days later, Grace was covered by St. Jude.
KRKT also did a fundraiser for Grace, who has since become a spokesperson for similar fundraisers.
“People we didn't even know were donating to Gracie's cause,” Heather said.
The role of caretaker changed hands when Grace found out her mom had breast cancer.
“I felt sad because I had already gone through it, and I didn't want my mom to go through what I did,” Grace said.
She brought her mother medication and water, and she also tended to what other needs she could.
“Gracie would also rat me out to my parents,” Heather said. When Grace saw that her mom was struggling, she would call her grandparents.
“I wanted my parents to think everything was OK, but thanks to Grace, my parents were there to support me, too,” Heather said.
“We are truly blessed,” she added. “So many people stepped up to help us.”